TDWI Conference Kernels: Monday Keynote on Performance Dashboards

Poorly aimed bazookas notwithstanding, performance dashboards are remarkably powerful enterprise tools, as TDWI’s Fall 2005 keynote outlined.

The opening keynote for a weeklong conference should set the stage for the week’s events, outlining a significant development or trend that will likely impact all within a particular realm. From a hurricane-free zone in the heart of Florida, TDWI’s Fall Conference featured just that with a Monday keynote delivered by research and services director Wayne Eckerson, entitled, Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring and Managing Your Business.

Before a packed ballroom at the Omni Orlando Resort in ChampionsGate, Eckerson began his talk by laying out one of two key takeaways from his presentation, which drew content from his recently published book of the same name: “Performance dashboards represent revolutionary technology that’s been developed in an evolutionary way. They’re revolutionary because they have the power to transform your business, take it to the next level, optimize performance. They’re evolutionary in that none of the pieces are new. It’s how we’re putting them together that’s new.”

The second key takeaway was that performance dashboards are much more robust, rich and dynamic than scorecards or “flat” dashboards. “What’s the difference? A performance dashboard is much bigger than those. A scorecard or [traditional] dashboard is like the tip of the iceberg; a performance dashboard is the iceberg itself. It’s a full-fledged performance management system.”

Eckerson outlined the typical complaints that executives air about their business intelligence toolsets: too complex, too slow, too rigid, too expensive. What’s more, corporate execs will always want processes to be streamlined and fluid: “They don’t want to have to fill out a form to get a custom report from the IT department that will be delivered in a week or two or three.”

Enter, performance dashboards. These tools provide a layered, multidimensional window into the performance and operations of an organization. The result is that executives benefit from a high-level view of their business, coupled with the capability to drill down to specific data points that reveal what’s happening on the front lines. Thus, performance dashboards have become tools that empower executives to measure, monitor and manage their businesses.

Offering a pneumonic device to conference attendees, Eckerson outlined the three threes: there are three types of performance dashboards (strategic, operational, tactical), with three applications (monitoring, analyzing, managing), and three layers (summary, multidimensional view, operational view). This versatility allows for these tools to be used in any number of ways, making them universally valuable within any enterprise.

Such dashboards, said Eckerson, “are the new face of business intelligence. They represent the fulfillment of BI’s potential to deliver insights to the organization.” They also comprise a nifty puzzle piece that completes a number of corporate management methodologies that have recently grown in prominence.

Noted Eckerson, “Many companies have developed methodologies to manage their businesses: Economic Value Add, Activity Based Costing, Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecard. With Performance Dashboards, we’re providing technology to automate those management systems. We’re giving them a tool to help them monitor the execution of strategy on a day-to-day basis.”

As always, this is no sliver bullet. There are caveats. “It takes a little organizational maturity for you to get the bang for your buck,” Eckerson conceded. He also noted the difficulty of getting disparate departments within a large organization to agree on the same key performance indicators (KPIs), which drive such dashboard solutions. “You live in federated reality. How do you integrate everything out there? It’s hard.”

As to just how important it is to align and vet KPIs before automating them via a dashboard, Eckerson offered the following analogy: “You’re taking this very powerful bazooka and shooting yourself in the foot.”

Published by Wiley, Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring and Managing Your Business is now available online and at participating book stores.

About the Author

Eric Kavanagh is the president of Mobius Media, a strategic communications consultancy. You can contact the author at ek@mobiusmedia.com.