What Is A Dashboard? The Answer May Surprise You

  • Richard Thelwell
  • June 6, 2014

What is a dashboard? As dashboards grow in popularity, it’s not surprising that people are asking the question.

Yet a dashboard turns out to be tantalisingly difficult to define. To be sure, it’s easy enough to describe what it looks like. But that isn’t the point.

Because what people really want to know is: What do I use it for? And what benefits will it give me?

And just like having e-mail on your smartphone, or a GPS in your car, or a single, business-wide ERP system, it turns out that dry factual descriptions don’t really fully capture what it’s like to actually have, and use, a dashboard.

A dashboard, in short, can be the best assistant you’ve ever had, a tool for looking into the future, and a forensic data expert who doesn’t take ‘No’ for an answer.

Surprised? Let’s take a look.

What is a dashboard? An all-knowing executive assistant.

Imagine having an executive assistant who knows what you’re interested in, and is primed to continually update you with how things are progressing.

Better still, they’re smart enough not to bother you too much with news of things that are going to plan, but know that instead you’ll be keen to be alerted to situations that aren’t going to plan.

What’s more, they know that your time is precious. So they don’t shower you with a deluge of dry numbers and facts, but instead take the time and trouble to pre-digest that raw data on your behalf, and present it to you in a visually stimulating way that instantly makes exceptions and trends stand out.

And what does an assistant this capable actually cost? Surprisingly little.

Because it turns out that their needs are modest, and that they are quite happy to inhabit your desktop, tablet computer, or smartphone all day.

That’s right: welcome to your new dashboard.

What is a dashboard? The best forensic expert you’ll get.

When things go wrong, finding out what happened can be difficult. Few people will willingly confess to making a mistake—and in any case, unintentional errors of omission can be just as damaging as actual errors of commission.

What’s more, sometimes stuff just happens. But that doesn’t mean that any of us are sanguine about it happening again.

So it’s important to get at the underlying facts, and precisely pin down cause and effect.
Management disciplines such as Six Sigma have plenty of tools for doing this, of course. But it’s not always possible—or desirable—to fact-find in this way. Particularly when it’s important to get at the truth quickly.

Enter a forensic expert for whom no data trail is too long, or too difficult. And a forensic expert, what’s more, who can be pointed at an existing situation, and who has the skills to drill down and find out the facts.

Where to find such an expert? You’re looking right at them, every time you glance at your dashboard.

What is a dashboard? An ‘early warning’ glimpse of the future.

“If only we knew last week—or last month—what we know now.” Common enough sentiments, to be sure.

But, needless to say, sentiments which are tantalisingly difficult to translate into action. Because, quite simply, in business there are few crystal balls.

Now, a dashboard won’t tell you which horse is going to win the 2:30 race at York. It won’t give you next week’s lottery numbers. And it won’t deliver a stream of canny stockmarket tips.

But it will provide early warning of situations and developments that might turn out to frame your business’s operational agenda for days, weeks, and months into the future. And it will do so, what’s more, in an unambiguous and visually compelling manner that leaves no room for doubt.

Order intake slowing down. Inventory rising. Debtor days rising. Costs increasing. Overdue orders climbing.
How? Take a look at your new dashboard.

What is a dashboard? The bottom line.

Put like that, it’s easy to understand the buzz that is building around dashboards.

Because, in a world long grown used to over-hyped IT advances, dashboards do represent an unusual departure: an advance that is genuinely aimed at helping managers to manage better.

So is there a dashboard in your future?

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