Management dashboards: the answers you need, when—and where—you need them

  • Richard Thelwell
  • July 16, 2014

Analyzing financial chartTo see the potential of management dashboards, simply consider how the world of management has changed over the past 25 years.

In the case of middle management, for instance, secretaries and deputies have largely vanished. Organisation structures have flattened. The typical manager’s number of direct subordinates has increased. And the speed of business—and of decision-making—has accelerated enormously.

The result? Ask any manager. In short, with fewer resources, managers find themselves stretched further than ever, with more responsibilities, and needing to respond ever more quickly to changing events.

To the rescue? Yes: management dashboards.

Management dashboards: Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts

At their simplest, management dashboards operate exactly like a car dashboard. In short, they provide you with an ‘at a glance’ view of vital information: speed, engine conditions, fuel status and so on.

Is it every last scrap of information that it’s possible to present you with? No. Has that information been condensed and edited for the sake of easy absorption, thereby trading off granularity of detail against instant access? Yes, again: gauges, warning lights, status indicators—raw data has been replaced by action-oriented summaries.

At a glance, you can see everything that you need know in order to make the correct decisions. And so too with management dashboards, which employ precisely the same summarising and alerting techniques.

Because just as you don’t need to know the precise number of litres of fuel remaining in your fuel tank, or the precise oil pressure in your engine, so too do management dashboards present data in a summarised form.

In short, management dashboards flag exceptions, provide an ‘at a glance’ indication of whether things are on track—or not—and alert you to possible problems.

Management dashboards: information on the move

If today’s managers are busier and more stretched than ever before, they’re also more mobile. Fuelled by devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablet computers, an ‘always on’ culture of work has developed. Managers can check e-mail and voicemail from wherever they are, at whatever time they wish.

But their enterprise systems struggle to match this ‘always on’ culture. Yes, all the major providers of ERP systems will protest that their systems are ‘mobile friendly’. And so they may be, at the transaction level.

But when they’re on the move, today’s busy managers want to do more than just authorise vacation requests or approve purchase orders. In short, they want to know the up to date status of those parts of the business for which they are responsible.

And here, the major providers of ERP systems have been less forthcoming. You can get traditional reports—if you can read them on your smartphone, tablet computer or laptop.

But an ‘at a glance’ status report across an area of responsibility, spanning multiple business processes? Er, no.

Which is where management dashboards come in. Because management dashboards do provide that ‘at a glance’ view across an entire area of responsibility. Quickly and reliably, they alert busy—and mobile—managers that action is required.

The upshot is to make management dashboards doubly useful. To be sure, they’re a useful and time-saving adjunct to a manager’s usual office-based desktop computer. But they really come into their own when those managers are on the move.

Management dashboards: deathly detail brought to life

For decades, data scientists have been exploring how to present information in a form which maximises its usefulness. Just as basic line charts and bar charts bring raw numbers to life, so too do advanced visualisation and interpretation techniques. ‘Sparklines’, for instance, provide an instant snapshot of a trend.

And, of course, these advanced visualisation and interpretation techniques can be readily incorporated into management dashboards, further aiding their ‘at a glance’ usefulness.

Better still, management dashboards don’t just make it easy for people to quickly grasp situations and see exceptions calling for action, they also make it easy for managers to ‘drill down’ into the underlying data, and look for underlying causes.

Spot a problem; drill down—and see precisely what happened to bring it about.

Management dashboards: a new reporting paradigm

So roll it all together, and it’s not difficult to see the growing appeal of management dashboards.

Simply put, management dashboards aren’t just a substitute for traditional sources of information such as reports, they actually add value in a way that management reports can’t.

The bottom line? Modern managers face challengers that their predecessors of a generation ago could only dream of. But with management dashboards, they have a tool with which to fight back.

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