Q/A: Working with dashboard editors for streamlining and increased user adoption

In this Q/A, learn what a dashboard is and how it affects business intelligence (BI). Find out who should use dashboards, how enterprises can streamline their dashboards and increase user adoption. Also, find out what role a dashboard editor should play in your company.

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Working with dashboard editors for streamlining and increased user adoptionTo streamline dashboards and make them as effective as possible, experts recommend that organizations leverage a dashboard editor. Read the Q/A below to learn how to use a dashboard editor and how doing so can improve user adoption for dashboards in your organization.

Editor's note: The following Q/A is an edited transcript based on a previously recorded dashboard podcast on SearchDataManagement.com. Please contact editor@searchdatamanagement.com with any questions.


Don't miss the other installments in this dashboard guide
How to get started with dashboards
10 key elements for effective dashboard designs
Executive dashboards and data visualization trends and future outlook
Working with dashboard editors for streamlining and increased user adoption
Real-life examples of effective dashboard design
How to create effective dashboards and scorecards
 


SearchDataManagement.com News Editor Jeff Kelly: Dashboards, with their interactive gauges and dials, can be an effective way to display the critical information needed to monitor and manage business operations. But when dashboards become overly cluttered with confusing gadgets and tools -- a common occurrence -- their effectiveness is diminished and user adoption lags.

To streamline dashboards and make them as effective as possible, organizations should consider tapping a dashboard editor, according to Baseline Consulting's Steve Putman. Putman recently sat down with SearchDataManagement.com to explain his concept of a dashboard editor and why it plays a critical role in developing dashboards in any industry.

But before we get started, here's a little more information on Steve's background. Steve is a senior consultant at Baseline Consulting, a business analytics and data integration consulting firm. Steve has more than 20 years of experience supporting client/server and Internet-based operations from small offices to major corporations. He has extensive experience in a variety of front-end development tools, as well as relational database design and administration, and is extremely effective in project management and leadership roles. Steve is a recognized thought leader in data quality, data governance, and master data management theory and practice, along with enterprise data warehouse architecture and semantic Web technology. Before joining Baseline, he owned his own software and consulting company.

So for those listening who might be new to business intelligence, can you explain exactly what a dashboard is and how it fits into the overall business intelligence landscape?

Steve Putnam, Senior Consultant, Baseline Consulting: The dashboard is basically a graphical representation of summarized bits of data. Basically what we're trying to do is replace the old green bar-type reports of days gone by with a very quick analysis tool for people to use to see what the state of the business is at a given time. A lot of people that use them are line managers and executives that need to have information quickly and they don't spend their entire day in front of a computer. But it also can be used as a gateway to more detailed analysis for power users and information workers.

Kelly: Which leads me to my next question. Are dashboards geared towards power users or everyday average business users or both?

Putnam: It can be geared to both types and actually everybody in the organization. The balanced scorecard movement is actually one sort of dashboard that has a specific structure to it that starts from a top-level mission statement, for example, and can go all the way down through the lowest level worker to give them an idea of how what they do affects the entire organization. That's one sort of dashboard. Generally, they're focused on a particular business process area such as a call center application.

Kelly: You say that busy dashboards are one reason dashboard projects fail to gain traction with users. Can you explain what you mean by busy and why is that such a hindrance to dashboard adoption?

Putnam: There have been studies done by cognitive researchers that have shown that the human mind tends to fall off a cliff from a comprehension point of view after about seven pieces of data at any one time. So what generally happens in dashboard projects is the requirements are generally given in a vague enough way that the business analyst will take them and explode them out into a lot of different areas that may or may not be related to the base requirements. And also the technical people gather up all the types of data that might be used for this analysis. So what ends up happening is you've got a lot of metrics that may or may not be in the proper context either against each other or against the overall goal of the dashboard. So what ends up happening is the screen becomes too busy, too many pieces of information at one time, which kind of defeats the purpose of a quick temperature gauge, for lack of a better term. And also it has performance implications in both a data warehousing environment or an operational environment based upon what the data structures are that you're pulling information from. So if you're pulling too much information you have a tendency of taking too long for the dashboard to load. What happens then is the ultimate people who are suing the dashboard get frustrated because the application takes too long to load so they go and find their information somewhere else. It kind of defeats the purpose of creating the dashboard in the first place.

 

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Image reprinted with permission from BITadvisors, Inc.

Kelly: To make dashboards easier to use and quicker to load you suggest bringing in what you call a dashboard editor. So what role exactly would this dashboard editor play?

Putnam: The metaphor that I use is a film editor in a movie. The film editor is one of the main production staff. They are usually credited along with the writers, the executive producers, the director of a movie. They're very vital to the movie being successful. And what a film editor does is work with the director to focus the vision of the story that the movie is telling. They take a lot of raw material that's been shot by the director and the film crew and they cut and paste and assemble a coherent story that has flow and is concise. So I'm suggesting that a similar role be identified within a dashboard project to make the story that you're trying to tell with the dashboard more focused, more coherent, and then by extension it becomes a better performing solution because you're not loading everything that you might try to do with your data source.

Kelly: So how would a dashboard editor resolve the issue of busy dashboards specifically? How would he or she wade through all the possible data combinations that could be put on a dashboard and decide which ones to go with?

Putnam: What an editor would do is look at the entirety of the dashboard and determine how one set of metrics relates to another relates to another and be able to say, 'Well, that really doesn't fit with the overall story we're trying to tell with the dashboard.' You see when you get requirements for a dashboard you get the overall story of what you're trying to do but you don't get all the scenes, shall we say, to follow the metaphor. You don't necessarily know how all the scenes fit together. So the editor would take the grander vision and determine how each of the metrics that you show fit the vision. So for example if you manage a call center you care about things like wait times for your calls, the number of levels in the organization it takes to answer a questions, things like that. You don't necessarily care about things that aren't specific to that business process, things that can creep in if there is no dashboard editor.

Kelly: In addition to streamlining busy dashboards, what other problems or issues do you envision a dashboard editor handling?

Putnam: Another one is performance, which I touched on. If you're only loading the data that you absolutely need to answer a focused group of metrics it stands to reason it will load faster. So the end user who doesn't necessarily care about drilling in to do more detailed analysis on the various metrics but just want to see what's going on, the solution loads much faster and they're more likely to use it. The tool won't get in the way of what they're trying to do, which is manage their process. Another thing that an editor can help out with is data security. It's just another check that the end users are seeing the data they're supposed to see and not seeing the data they're not supposed to see, which can be a problem especially in an aggregated environment.

 Kelly: So who in the organization should take on the roll of dashboard editor? Should it be a member of the business intelligence team or someone brought in from an outside group, and do you envision the dashboard editor role as a full time roll for someone or would it be just one of many duties of an IT staff member?

Putnam: So I see this person as not necessarily part of the business intelligence project team but someone who's involved in BI projects on a larger level, I see them as a member of the organization – not a contractor or consultant. This is somebody who has to have enough political weight in the organization to make the calls on editing the content. They have to understand the bigger picture of what the dashboard is trying to do. And I think the most important thing is they shouldn't have a vested interest in the delivery of the solution itself. What I mean by that is a business analyst or technical person's performance is predicated on the success or failure of that solution. The editor should not have their job performance be solely determined by how the dashboard performs.

 Kelly: Why is that so important?

Putnam: That's important because human nature is that you want to be able to produce at least as much and preferably more than what is requested of you when you're doing a project. That's something that I've seen over and over again. When you're not sure as a project team what end users need you tend to throw in more stuff because they might need it later. The editor will say, 'You know what, I don't care necessarily if you can produce all of this other data. I care that we're answering this question.'

 Kelly: You also mentioned in your previous answer that a dashboard editor has to have the political clout to get things done, which leads me to my last question about selling the concept of a dashboard editor to the business, especially to management who ultimately pays this person's salary. How do you go about convincing management that this is a good investment to make?

Putnam: Another thing that makes a good dashboard editor is knowledge of visual design concepts. I alluded earlier to these cognitive studies about the number of things on a screen and the comprehension level falling off as you add more to the screen. That's one of the things that go into visual design concepts. Technical resources and business analysts are not necessarily visual designers. So a successful editor will understand those concepts maybe than the technical project team. So that's one way to sell it. You are providing a resource that has a little bit different training to get you a better solution. Talking about political pull, there's a better chance if someone has political pull in the organization and they're fairly high up in the organization they will have a better chance that the solution will be better aligned to the people that will ultimately use it if they're one of them essentially. And also it provides a check from a non-project person, someone who's not necessarily assigned to the project team; it provides a check so the solution is more viable.

 


Don't miss the other installments in this dashboard guide
How to get started with dashboards
10 key elements for effective dashboard designs
Executive dashboards and data visualization trends and future outlook
Working with dashboard editors for streamlining and increased user adoption
Real-life examples of effective dashboard design
How to create effective dashboards and scorecards
 


 

This was first published in July 2009

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