Enterprise Excel Blog

KPI Dashboards: Getting There and Living to Tell About It

Dashboards seem inexpensive, too. A few hundred dollars a year to keep your executive decision maker plugged in? That’s a bargain.

In theory, cloud is all benefit to customers. Startup and deployment costs are reduced. Risk is minimized since you can cancel your month-to-month subscription at any time. And service is enhanced, since your vendor and you can collaborate directly on your application, rather than through an IT intermediary and firewall.

In practice, however, few KPI Dashboard projects ever meet expectations. Many fail completely as costs escalate far beyond their value. There are key reasons for this. Understanding these issues will help you avoid them.

The primary problem is that the pie chart, speedometer or grid on your dashboard, while a simple representation of just a few numbers, is merely the tip of the iceberg; the most summarized data in a larger datamart or data warehouse. This is all well and good, except that this gauge cannot exist for more than an instant in time unless the entire datamart or data warehouse underlying it is designed, deployed, and continually fed from transaction systems, monitored and maintained. That inexpensive dashboard suddenly becomes VERY expensive.

A second problem is that executives have short attention spans. Not many executives want to stare at the same charts and graphs every day for months or years waiting for alerts to trigger. Priorities change, and decision makers like to tinker — I know I do 😉 — and to keep us happy and using the dashboard, the authoring team must be staffed sufficiently to keep the presentation relevant and valuable.

One Solution: Comprehensive CPM; Build from the Ground Up

Rather than think of CPM as a collection of siloed apps in which you install budgeting over here and dashboards over there, then add a capital planning, HR and revenue planning that are all separate, envision a bigger picture. Sketch out the content for a comprehensive financial and operational model of your company, a model that would readily support all of these business processes. Once this vision is in place, prioritize the content and build it organically. Taking such a holistic, ground-up approach will yield a unified model that is surprisingly cost-effective and self-maintaining, probably no more expensive than the time and labor you are investing in maintaining your existing budgeting and forecasting spreadsheets.

… and, since this approach ensures that the highest priority content is all there in  your financial and operational model, reconciled, up-to-date and ready to present, the Dashboard “project” (which is largely a data warehousing project) is 99% complete: Simply configure and go! Your executives will happy for months.

This article called One major appeal of dashboards is that they can help executives narrow the ‘decision window’, appearing in the February 2012 issue of CFO Magazine, is typical. While it reaffirms the growing popularity and promise of dashboards, it completely finesses the issue of cost. Conclusion? Beware. Dashboards are more expensive than you might think.

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