CIO drives ROI with dashboards

Smart dashboards can lead to positive ROI and happy CEOs, said Eastern Mountain Sports CIO Jeff Neville, during CIO Decisions 2006.

Companies that build effective dashboards can find big returns on their investment, according to Eastern Mountain Sports Inc. CIO Jeffrey Neville. But deriving ROI from a dashboard requires meaningful metrics -- information that allows anyone from your CEO to your sales staffs to identify trends and exceptions, Neville told delegates at the 2006 CIO Decisions Conference last week.

EMS, a $200 million company headquartered in Peterborough, N.H., and specializing in clothing and equipment for outdoor adventurers, told his CIO peers that the company's dashboard paid for itself quickly.

"This has been an important driver for us," Neville said. "For driving revenue, testing new store formats and understanding new customers."

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Using a dashboard that EMS developed in-house with an Information Builders Inc. tool, an EMS product manager noticed a spike in sales at one of the company's 75 retail stores, Neville said. The product manager was able to trace that jump to one successful store employee, a "footwear guru," trained to find the perfect fit for customers.

"The product manager was able to unearth one footwear guru," Neville said. "[The guru] picked up on the fact that he could sell accessories while he was spending so much time with customers," Neville said. EMS decided to train more 'gurus' throughout the company and roll out a new sales strategy that produced a $200,000 increase in sales revenue for the season.

A 2006 survey by Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. showed business intelligence (BI) as a top priority for CIOs (displacing even security in one poll). Many CIOs say the challenge now is to make sure they don't shortchange their BI projects or get distracted by the razzle-dazzle of snazzy new dashboards. The key, said CIO Decisions conference delegate Jeffrey Singleton, is to make sure you can drill down to root causes.

"You're rebuilding the reporting tool, diving into exception-based reporting," said Singleton, director of software engineering at Pomona, Calif.-based Keystone Automotive Industries Inc. "And from that understanding of the data, you know what actions to take." He attended last week's conference in Carlsbad, Calif., with Keystone's CIO, Jesus Arriaga.

A dashboard should allow users faster access to real-time data so they can "get straight to the problem right away, rather than running reports and sifting through them," Arriaga said. Identifying the essential requirements for BI tools early in a project cycle is key to success, he warned.

IT executives should concentrate on a narrow field of users at the outset of a dashboard project, Singleton said. Involving too many people in the process can bog things down. He suggested that CIOs identify managers or representatives of each user group to help keep things under control.

"An important piece is identifying what the requirements are," Arriaga said. "We suffered from a lack of information -- and now we are all information saturated." Now that BI projects have become a priority for so many CIOs, there is a rush to leverage all the data many IT shops have been collecting and sitting on for years.

"Right now," Arriaga said, "we are like kids in a candy store."

This article originally appeared on SearchCIO.com.

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