Discussing Interactive Real-Time Dashboarding Tools

This is the transcript of a podcast hosted by InetSoft on the topic of "Interactive Real-Time Dashboarding Tools." The speaker is Mark Flaherty, CMO at InetSoft.

Companies have really focused lately on interactive real-time dashboarding tools, and that’s moving really into their C-level area where people manage their companies. It starts to overlap with Tom Davenport’s area of competing on analytics and having metrics oriented executives, having near real-time information instead of just once a month rollups. It also means having information alerts for upper level managers so that they can manage the business better.

So when you think about dashboarding, there’s really quite a lot of information that can be pushed out to the field staff or received by the executive C-level. The information can come into different devices. You can color code it. You can send alerts if you have users who can’t connect to the dashboard.

You can also cascade the dashboard as many methodologies recommend for doing strategy. Like balance scorecarding where you link the objectives with the performance results, so that every individual in the company can see all the way to the very top how their role contributes.

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Role-based Operational Dashboards

It might be the cleaning person at Southwest Airlines, and the turnaround time for a plane depends on the speed of the cleaning person. So being able to see how your particular contribution adds up to the whole can also be a very useful and motivating area for many employees. Okay, so you can imagine some of the good that can come from disseminating dashboards throughout an enterprise. But how do you go about explaining the value of executive dashboards to folks? How do we explain the value to a CFO?

Well, the value comes from being able to take action. In many cases we don’t just gather the data because we love data. We gather the data, and we run the BI tools, and we get insights, and then we want to take action. So being able to use dashboards as an early warning system, it could be that a new product introduction is going very well and you should pull the plug on advertisements, spot advertising models. It’s a pretty high level executive decision to do something like that.

It might be a new product introduction is failing. Maybe R&D cut corners, and you rolled the product out. Now you’re getting a lot of calls in the customer care center. That would show up on a dashboard. People who are proficient in metrics, metrics oriented CFOs or CEOs really take advantage of these dashboarding tools.

What I’ve heard when I’ve talked to staffers about their CEO, they say, yeah, he very definitely looks at the scoreboard and decides what meetings he’s going to have later that day. It might be excessive returns. It might be a gross margin problem. So using the data to shine the spotlight I think is a very powerful use of the data.

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“Flexible product with great training and support. The product has been very useful for quickly creating dashboards and data views. Support and training has always been available to us and quick to respond.
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Stories of Good Dashboarding

Let’s talk about some other good examples of dashboarding at companies. Yesterday, I attended a really good session by a leading financial services provider, and they highlighted the fact that they focused in on the right metrics. They went from number six in the industry in revenues and fees per financial representative to number one by focusing and having dashboards at their fingertips that could help the entire company understand what’s going on.

The other area that I’m very interested is in where the finance organization plays a role in moving from being an accounting group to becoming a business consulting group. In many cases what they’re doing is using BI tools and mashing up data acrpss the enterprise to come up with the leading indicators of company performance. They realize that by the time you get to the end of the quarter, and you’re reporting sales, it’s too late. It’s too late to make any changes.

So knowing the linkages and the levers within the company so that you can say, gee, if we’re not going to make our numbers, what can we do now in month one of the quarter to have an impact in downstream performance. So I’m on the hunt for customer cases in that area. I don’t have a lot of them.

I know there are cases like one of the banks in Sweden. The solution architect wrote me a note when I sent out the word that I was on a hunt for more cases. And he said well, they do balance scorecards so they actually do have linked objectives from the very top of the group all the way to the individual person in the bank making loans, but it’s not real-time. It’s updated once a month.

But here’s what’s interesting. When they print out the numbers once a month for the balanced scorecard, smoke comes out of the BI system. Why? It’s because everybody is drilling into the details of that scorecard. So that’s all the detail data being looked at by the employees. I think that’s a good thing, but I have to ask the question, why would you only do that once a month? Why not do it continuously. So that’s what I mean by live dashboarding.

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Well, maybe they’re getting on the road to it, which kind of takes me to the next question. If companies really want to move toward active dashboards where do they start? What are the good first steps?

I think you’re golden if you have a metrics oriented CEO, but many people aren’t going to have that. You’re also golden if you have CFO that’s one of these people that wants to move from an accounting CFO group to a performance management group. The more likely case will be maybe you’re already using a data warehouse and an analytics solution proficiently in your marketing organization. And so now the marketing group says “you know what, we shouldn’t just do more lifetime value studies or profitability analytics or product sequencing analytics, we should actually connect the dots with the front end.

Let’s call in the call center people and have a discussion. Could we make the call center employees faster, smarter? Let’s talk to the Web people. How could we apply things like next best product sequencing on the Web site instead of having a one size fits all Web site? So in many cases what I help do is foster discussions between people in the groups where the frontline groups who might not even know anything about InetSoft are invited into meetings and you can embed better decision making tidbits into their processes.