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C'mon Dashboard Vendors: Time to Step Up!

I’m perplexed why some BI vendors treat the metrics in their dashboards differently than the metrics in their scorecards. When you look at their scorecard products, all the metrics have targets associated with them and display color-coded traffic lights and trending symbols. But when you examine their dashboards, the metrics are just simply charts and tables without performance context. These vendors act as if dashboards are simply a collection of charts and tables—a metrics portal, if you will—not a bonafide performance management system.

To me, if you insert a metric in a dashboard or a scorecard, then it’s worthy enough to be measured against a goal and displayed in all its color-coded glory. Otherwise, why are you measuring the activity at all? If no one cares whether the activity is performed well or not—or whether it’s aligned with strategic, tactical, or operational objectives—what’s the point? You are simply cluttering the dashboard with useless data.

To test my conjecture, I asked the audience at the Palladium Performance Management Conference during a panel session today whether the metrics in their dashboards have goals associated with them (or should anyway). The resounding response was, “Yes!” It turns out that user organizations don’t make the same arbitrary distinctions between scorecards and dashboards that vendors do.

Of course, there was some debate among my fellow panelists about this issue. Sure, there are some metrics, like top ten lists, that are purely diagnostic yet important to include in a dashboard. And some operational users may internalize metric goals because they are so immersed in the processes they manage and the organization doesn’t feel the need to instrument those metrics. Yet, the fundamental principle holds true: every metric in a scorecard AND dashboard should have an associated target.

Displaying Versus Authoring Targets

Most dashboard vendors will say, “Sure, we can display performance targets” and they might be right. But the real question is, do they let business users define the target in the tool itself and then display it? Probably not. And if business users can’t define the targets easily, they won’t.

The workaround that vendors often propose is clumsy. They’ll say, “Get the IT department to revise the data warehouse data model to support performance targets, status, and trend indicators. Then have them create new extract routines that pull the targets from a planning system or spreadsheet into the data warehouse. Or failing that, have the business manager email the targets to an IT person who can manually add them to the database.” Yeah right. Who’s going to do that?

Ok, maybe in a true enterprise performance management environment, you want the targets to emanate from a corporate planning system and flow through the enterprise data warehouse to a local mart and into the dashboard. But honestly, few organizations are that sophisticated yet. So in the meantime, dashboard vendors have no excuse for not natively supporting the creation and display of performance targets.

Do Me a Favor. So the next time you talk to a dashboard vendor, do me a favor. When they demo their product, ask them where their targets and traffic lights are. Then, ask them to show you how a business person can attach a target to one of the charts or tables in the dashboard. If they start squirming, stammering, or sweating, then you know you are looking at a metrics portal not a real performance management system. And let me know how you make out!

Posted by Wayne Eckerson on May 11, 2010


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