Management Transparency through Dashboards

Enterprise Dashboard Topic: Xcelsius Dashboard Case Study from The Dashboard Spy

Unless we’re careful, we dashboard designers may fall into the trap of becoming ivory tower theorists. Isolated from the nitty gritty of real life, we would be unable to tie our dashboards to the real wants and needs of our users. How so? Well, in designing a dashboard, we explore several fields that rely heavily on theory and fundamentals: usability, cognitive behavior, information visualization, data graphing and representation, graphic design, etc. In all these fields, we avidly read the rules and practices espoused by the core group of experts (often opinionated, always persuasive!) and sometimes risk going overboard and putting theory before the flexibility required by actual users. It’s easy to think that we (or the gurus) know best, when, in actuality, it’s the users (yes – contentious statement).

To turn this thought into a case study with a real, implemented business dashboard, let’s consider the situation today regarding rising gasoline prices. Sure, it’s hurting all of us, but those people in states with higher gas taxes really feel the pinch. Take a look at this great listing of state sales, gas, cig and alc. taxes. The gas taxes are used in various ways. In fact, they typically go to a multitude of different state agencies to fund projects of all sorts.

It’s in times of rising prices (and short tempers) that tax payers demand visibility into how their tax dollars are being spent. Management transparency becomes an absolute requirement by the public. Of course, the web and the rise of management dashboards fit this need very well.

The Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) has taken a major step in terms of management transparency by putting onto their public website, an extensive performance dashboard. The TIB GMAP Dashboard was launched to the public on May 1, 2008 and provides visiblity of KPIs and metrics for the projects funded by their share of the tax revenue.

Getting back to the theme of real user needs versus ivory-tower thinking, this dashboard application shows the balance that can be struck between design principals and real-world contraints. It’s not the most “correct” BI dashboard implementation out there, but it will certainly be a hit with the users. The choice of Xcelsius and its flash-based interactivity has some nice glitz to it. While some charts and graphs may be better designed from an information visualization point of view, the level of utility is high. Check out the screenshot below of the use of sparklines to show historic trends – nice!.

After 4 years of internal use, user feedback and constant iteration, the team had confidence that the public would find not only great utility in the data, but a satisfaction from seeing how their tax dollars were being put to use. It took 4 years of evolution and listening to constituents that got the TIB to their current level of transparency. Good job!

Here is a screenshot of the Xcelsius dashboard:

Performance Dashboard for Transportation Project Management

If you are on the front page of the Dashboards By Example blog, be sure to click on the following “more” link to see the rest of this post as there will be a great video of this flash-based dashboard as well as more screenshots and business case documentation.

As this Xcelsius-based dashboard requires Flash, which some of you may not have at your workplace, I’ve provided a Dashboard Spy video that captures the action of this performance management dashboard. Please note that a voice actor (unrelated to the Transportation Improvement Board or any other Washington State agency) was used to narrate a portion of the presentation.

Click the green “plus” arrow on the following page to see a larger view of this performance dashboard.

Thanks goes to Dashboard Spy reader Rhonda Reinke, the TIB Chief Administrative Officer, who sent me the following background material. When I thanked her, she said that the entire Performance Management Team is to be congratulated. Especially appreciated is the hard work and dedication to the project from IT specialist, Gregg Plummer and Executive Director, Stevan Gorcester.

Dear Dashboard Spy,

The Transportation Improvement Board of Washington State is proud to announce that the GMAP Performance Management Dashboard is now available online!

The Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) is one of the most transparent government agencies in the country as it moves the formerly internal performance website out to the public Internet. May 1, 2008, is the date that we have rolled out our fully functional and incredibly transparent dashboard to the public web site.The Dashboard provides the public the same exact view the Executive Director has to manage the agency’s $200 million of revenues generated from 3 cents of the state gas tax.

Once only used internally to make decisions that impact over 300 customers and $200 million in taxpayers funds, is now on our web site for everyone to see how we manage our projects and funding.

This is a real time dashboard that pulls information from our database through RSS, so it is updated every time the page is loaded.

We would love to get input from the dashboardspy to see how other governmental entities stack up in terms of dashboards.

The background material is that the agency was almost bankrupt. Clear and simple, although, very scary. Prior commitments were coming due and the agency was not in a position to pay out the pending millions of dollars in bills.

A new director was hired in 2001, and immediately saw that the agency was in dire straits. What happened was an immediate need for information. The agency had a HUGE database full of project
information, but could not mine the data. It would take days for the project engineers to actually count the number of active projects each had. And projects that were open to traffic were never closed out so there was a large amount of appropriation outstanding with no backup

The director knew that the information was out there, it just needed to be put together in a logical way. Borrowing from private consulting firms, the dashboard was born. Originally, it was a bare bones way of tracking the number of projects and how much money was deposited and spent. About $25,000 was spent on the original programming in ColdFusion and Xcelcius. The one and only IT person in the agency was sent to special classes on how to program the software, and the
dashboard was born. It took about 4 months to roll out the preliminary dashboard, and in the last 3 years has emerged to what it is today. But, it is still changing based on needs and feedback.

Today, we handle this as a project with a Performance Management Team including the I.T. programmer, Chief Engineer, Financial Manager, and myself (Chief Administrative Officer). The data is drawn from an SQL database with an RSS feed so data is dynamic and not static.

Our website has more of the background on it under Dashboard Overview. Please visit the dashboard at

Please ask the readers of The Dashboard Spy and Dashboards by Example to let us know how we did with this business intelligence dashboard.


Let’s take a look at some more dashboard screenshots:

Here is the Balanced Scorecard:

Balanced Scorecard for transportation improvement board performance management for the State of Washington

You can select projects to view the status of.

Transportation Management Project Dashboard

Project level information even includes pictures from the job site.

Transportation Project Photo

Xcelsius provides a variety of graphing options:

Transportation Management Project KPIs and metrics

Quarterly financial reporting includes sparkline trendlines:

Sparklines show trend history

What do you think of this dashboard application? Feel better about those gasoline taxes?

Be sure to visit the TIB Dashboard to try out the functionality that I haven’t shown here. There’s plenty in this dashboard including incorporation of the Google Mapping API.


Hubert Lee
The Dashboard Spy

PS. If you realize the importance of the business dashboard approach, but don’t have the in-house IT talent for a digital dashboard project, you can still embrace dashboarding via the DASHBOARD OEM route. Take a look at a vendor such as Klipfolio for an embed dashboard that you can use to power your project.

Tags: State Transportation Dashboard, Management Dashboards, Xcelsius Dashboard, Flash-based Scorecards, Transparency and Visibility.

9 thoughts on “Management Transparency through Dashboards

  1. Wow! As a citizen of Washington State, I am delighted that an agency is letting me see where my money is going. More importantly, TIB is even letting me see what the issues are – not hiding the challenges and problems.

    When are the other agencies going to follow suit?

  2. Feeling better about gasolene taxes? Not a chance! In my neck of the woods, the cheapest petrol anywhere in the country is currently £1.08 per litre – approx $2.16! And there is zero transparency.

    Re the dashboard – as you say, not the most conceptually perfect, but it doesn’t seem enormously misleading and people like it, so a big thumbs up!

  3. Hooray for this dashboard! What I really like is that this is a dashboard application – not just a single screen of metrics. You can actually use this system to investigate down to the project level.

    Did you drill down all the way to the street project pictures? That’s great!

  4. Those interested in transportation management dashboards such as this one should also look at what the State of Virginia has done with their VDOT Dashboard.

  5. Pingback: Washington State Economic Dashboard | Dashboards By Example

  6. This is an Excellent Xcelsius dashboard!. Anyone knows how the right-hand side page is refreshing when you select the option in the left side panel. Are they using the controls of the frames to hide and show depends on the selection.

    Let me know your thoughts.


  7. Pingback: Washington State Economic Dashboard | Free Excel Dashboards

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