Departmental BI dashboarding needs enterprise view

Align departmental business intelligence dashboards with enterprise business intelligence (BI) and corporate strategy to avoid data silos.

The very best BI dashboard is highly personalised, says Madan Sheina, a business intelligence analyst at analyst Ovum. It presents an employee with everything they need to know about what their priorities are, and the steps needed to guarantee superior performance.

This idealised view of a performance dashboard throws up an interesting conundrum: If everyone is being presented with personalised accounts of what their priorities should be, how does the business ensure everyone is pulling together towards the same goals?

In years gone by, dysfunctional organisations used to hold management meetings where attendees would do battle brandishing spread sheets. These days, they do it with dashboards, says Nick Millman, digital data analytics lead at consultancy Accenture.

“What you should be aiming for is a set of dashboards where everyone is working towards the same goals, using the same metrics, rather than fighting about whose dashboard is better,” he says.

Ideally, a chief operating officer should have a view of the business made up of the information presented to those at every level underneath him or her, says Millman. 

“It should extend from the top-level dashboard to the shop floor,” he says.

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This pyramid of dashboards need not dictate that the enterprise adheres rigidly to a single technology provider, he explains. What matters is that the dashboards people see provide them with a picture of how their efforts contribute to organisational success. 

“You want that to be consistent, but it's about far more than just [engaging] a technology supplier,” he says.

Case study: Carphone Warehouse business intelligence infrastructure

"BI is haphazard, unpredictable and without any clear patterns"

Boris Evelson, Forrester

At the Carphone Warehouse, this need to empower staff at all levels has seen the company radically overhaul its business intelligence infrastructure. 

Two years ago, the Carphone Warehouse started to migrate away from its Business Objects and Crystal Reports heritage, as well as its Oracle data warehouse. The company moved towards in-store systems, where branch managers were presented with MicroStrategy dashboards, powered by an IBM Netezza data warehouse.

This project has helped reduce the discord that had built up previously, where hundreds of staff would produce their own reports. 

Today, everyone in Carphone Warehouse uses area-specific dashboards populated with information only relevant to their role.

But many organisations will have already invested significantly in BI tools and dashboards; they may not be in a position to – indeed could face objections were they to – roll out new BI technology. 

So how can firms ensure their existing investment delivers dashboards that meet individual employee's needs as well as dovetailing with corporate objectives?

One of the big challenges facing any organisation that implements BI tools is that the technology invariably takes on a life of its own, says Boris Evelson, an analyst with Forrester Research. 

“However, unlike any other enterprise software, usage of BI is much more haphazard, unpredictable, and without any clear patterns,” says Evelson.

Beware the Tower of Babel

"Problems stem from staff using different data to build their arguments"

Nick Millman, Accenture

Without a highly focused approach to deploying BI tools – and dashboards in particular – there is a danger that the tools handed to users will be the wrong ones for the job. 

But that's not to say that the successful deployment is solely a technology choice, but rather that organisations need to ensure job roles are considered when creating dashboards, says Evelson.

If companies are concerned that, rather than unifying the workforce around a common set of objectives, their dashboards are creating a Tower of Babel – with each disparate groups unable to find common ground – they might not need a scorched earth approach, but they do need to understand why harmony is breaking down. 

So are different departments working with to the same set of key performance indicators, grounded on the same data sources?

“Usually, when you have this sort of problem, it stems from staff using different data to build their arguments,” says Accenture's Millman.

For enterprises to have a set of dashboards that present users with highly tailored information, while maintaining a consistent organisational view on its goals, they need to establish a core set of key performance indicators for the business. 

The dashboards that are then presented to each and every user must then have those key performance indicators cascaded throughout the organisation. 

Individual dashboards can be customised from this gold standard, while maintaining consistency. This ensures dashboards can be the window on the enterprise, without giving conflicting views.

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