Somewhere there is a CEO walking through the halls of his office and noticing TV screens hanging on the walls. All of them are turned off except two: one displaying CNN with a stock ticker scrolling across the bottom and the other a soccer game on ESPN with a few employees huddled around watching a replay of the last goal. The real time business intelligence dashboards once slated to occupy the screens are all but forgotten.
The problem with BI dashboards is that they have become more about the technology than the content in recent years. They have been around since the 1980s, when they were called Executive Information Systems. The problem then was technology - data didn’t exist and it didn’t refresh fast enough. Thirty-five years later, thanks to the Internet, Big Data and a technology revolution or three, those problems are easier than ever to solve, yet dashboard project after dashboard project ends in failure because people don’t find them useful. Meanwhile we are still obsessing over how fast the data can refresh and how to put the dashboard in such plain sight that employees can’t help but look.
When you are designing your next BI dashboard, the proper allocation of project resources is 90% time spent picking the metrics and 10% time with the technology implementation. You need to obsess over the metrics. You need to soul search about the metrics. You need to choose and deliver metrics that beyond a shadow of a doubt tie employee behavior and actions to the core culture and brand of the business. Metrics that are so valuable they could be delivered by postcard and snail mail. Metrics that are so valuable that the delivery mechanism is absolutely irrelevant. Metrics that are so clear that employees recognize value in making the numbers move, not only for the business but for themselves and their career goals. Deliver these metrics via 70 inch TV screens on the walls and let the transformation begin because these are metrics the business can live by everyday.
You’ll know the business hasn’t soul searched enough if you see any of these early warning signs happen in your project:
Lazy Metric Selection
You cherry pick metrics from legacy Excel dashboards that the CEO has relied upon for years, and in dashboard planning meetings you hear:
Well, in our data we have revenue and we have analyst count - how about we show a Revenue per Analyst metric?
There is some extra whitespace down in the corner; we have room to put something there.
Excitement - Over Wall Mounted TVs
It is easy to confuse excitement for the promise of a real time Business Intelligence Dashboard with excitement for the honor of having a wall mounted TV in your office. For the employees sitting near the shiny new investment it is a status symbol of sorts - a nod that we are worthy to be at all times within view of the next major initiative. It is pretty much the equivalent of a high five from the CEO.
My generation emerged from a public education system designed to breed factory workers in the post-industrialization age. We were trained to think in terms of assembly lines and mass production, and the metrics we are inclined to create reflect this education. Calls per hour. Tickets closed per day. Deals per week. More quantity in less time for the continual march towards efficiency and having your job replaced by a robot someday. These metrics will not inspire.
Disturbing Employee Feedback
We have a job to do! We can’t distract ourselves by glancing at the dashboard every 15 minutes. This is a sign that the metrics do not reinforce your employees’ current jobs but instead add more work that deters them from what they believe is their mission.
ESPN and Stock Tickers
The business is waiting for v2 of the dashboard. The technology team is waiting for the business to care. The dashboard clearly fails to offer the value of a real time stock ticker or the enjoyment and comradery of watching a soccer game.