When Dashboards Are Not Enough

As much as digital dashboards rock my world, I have to keep in mind that business intelligence is much more than a dashboard. In terms of that old tired metaphor, if a dashboard shows me the metrics of my vehicle in a small location right in front of me, then business intelligence is everything else that I need to know – the view around the car, the view out the windshield, the sound of the engine, etc. In this example, the dashboard alone is not sufficient for me to drive the car. I need the additional input of the world around me to get to my destination.

Wait a minute, you say, pilots can fly by instrumentation alone. Ha! Take that, you Dashboard Spy you! I would reply that a pilot has a full cockpit. If you were to apply that analogy to a business dashboard, then you have to go beyond a simple one page, read-only dashboard and include business intelligence application functionality that can provide control and feedback. Your enhanced business cockpit would include what-if analytics, modeling etc.

I bring this up today because of a very interesting post from the UK. Data Monkey is a marketing analyst fond of bananas and dashboards. See photo:
data monkey

Data Monkey’s post on Why a Dashboard Won’t Solve All of Your Problems is a good read that reminds us not to be seduced by all that data out there:

Business Intelligence (BI) has come of age. Assuming your IT department knows roughly what they’re doing and you can afford it, you can have your latest sales, market share, media spend, Google conversion rates and any other metrics you care to mention on your screen on a Monday morning.

More information is incredibly seductive. If you had your sales and media spend histories at your fingertips, you could show the effectiveness of your current advertising campaign. Surely? Couldn’t you?

Well actually, no you couldn’t. Marketing analysts have had this data for ages and it takes them a couple of months (and a degree in statistics) to work it out.

His bottom line is that a dashboard can only show basic information:

As analysts, we’re often the ones selling dashboards, so lets be honest about what they do well. They show data. So to be useful, you have to be someone who needs to see that data – and I mean really needs to see it. Just the number. Not why the number, or where it came from, or what you might want to do about it.

Anything that goes beyond looking at a number isn’t a dashboard, it’s insight and analysis.

Be sure to read his post for more.

I’ve added Data Monkey’s blog, Wallpapering Fog: An analyst’s thoughts on the marketing industry to the information visualization section of The Dashboard Spy’s List of Experts.

What do you think?

Regards Hubert Lee, The Dashboard Spy

Tags: Business Intelligence Dashboards, Data Monkey, Dashboard Metrics

4 BI Worst Practices

Business Intelligence Worst Practices as listed in the Information Builders white paper, Worst Practices in Business Intelligence | Why BI Applications Succeed Where BI Tools Fail:

  1. Assuming the Average Business User Has the Know-How or Time to Use BI Tools
  2. Allowing Excel to Become the Default BI “Platform”
  3. Assuming a Data Warehouse Will Solve All Information Access and Delivery
  4. Selecting a BI Tool Without a Specific Business Need

According to the white paper author, these are the four top worst practices for business intelligence implementations as seen over years of observing many companies. They have been repeated over and over by some of the smartest enterprises out there. Typically these worst practices are the result of wanting to ride the lastest technology wave without moderating the hype with practical knowledge.

In this post, we’ll list out a couple of points within each of the four worst practices, but you’ll need to read the whitepaper itself for the full details. Use the link at the beginning of this post.

Excel dashboard enthusiasts may need to cover their ears when it comes to worst practice number 2: Allowing Excel to become the default business intelligence platform.

Click on the “read more” link to see the rest of the post:

Business Intelligence Worst Practice Number One:

Assuming the Average Business User Has the Know-How or the Time to Use BI Tools

The end-user market is flooded with hype from the vendors indicating that “Business Intelligence tools are for everyone”. Even though the tools no longer require programming or database knowledge and are based on graphical, drag and drop approaches, they are often still too complex for everyday use by business users. Also, average business users are often not involved with the purchasing decision process and wind up with tools forced upon them by IT and business side power users.

  • Overlooking the True End User
  • Too Much for Too Few
  • It’s a Matter of Time
  • Usability Trumps Capabilities
  • Business Intelligence Go-To Guys and Multiple Versions of the Truth

Business Intelligence Worst Practice Number Two:

Allowing Microsoft Excel to Become the Default Business Intelligence Platform

According to the white paper, Excel “thrives in the absence of true BI applications”. There are many benefits but, the problems include:

  • Manual Error-Prone Processes
  • The Impact of Data Errors
  • The Creation of Spreadmarts

Business Intelligence Worst Practice Number Three:

Assuming that a Data Warehouse Will Solve All Information Access and Delivery Requirements

Data warehouses are a very important part of information technology and, in particular, are a critical component of many analytical systems. So it is not the data warehouse that is the problem. Rather the worst practice arises when a data warehouse is viewed as the solution to all information problems or when it is expected that the availability of the data warehouse will drive business users to information.

The truth is that not all BI applications require a data warehouse. Many BI applications are better served with integration and portal technology that allows data to reside where it currently exists and pulls it on an as-needed basis. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to assess whether or not a data warehouse is the right solution to their challenge before starting down the warehouse path.

The white paper goes on to explore:

  • Failing to Fully Assess the Need for a Data Warehouse
  • Identifying the Best Solution for your Needs
  • Identifying When Data Warehouses Make Sense

Business Intelligence Worst Practice Number Four:

Selecting a BI Tool Without a Specific Business Need

The worst thing to do is to purchase BI software for “general purpose analysis”. The white paper explains that the purchase of business intelligence software for general purpose BI results in the worst ROI and largest expense.


Tags: White Paper Business Intelligence Worst Practices


5 Top Business Intelligence Tool Vendors According to IDC

Dashboard Vendors Hot Topic: Must-Read Business Intelligence Vendor Landscape White Paper Ranks Top 5 BI Tool Vendors: Business Objects, SAS, Cognos, Microsoft, Hyperion.

For more dashboard whitepapers such as this, use these white paper resource links: Business Intelligence White Papers | Business Trade Magazines  |   Information Technology White Papers.

Business intelligence dashboarders should immediately read the recently released paper (report dated July 2007 based on 2004-2006 data) written by IDC entitled “Worldwide Business Intelligence Tools 2006 Vendor Share“.

In addition to reviewing the “state of the union” in terms of BI tools and vendors, this excellent report offers some very interesting insight as to the ongoing adoption of business intelligence and dashboards by business users.

As defined by IDC, BI tools such as Dashboards belong to the query/reporting/analysis branch of the business intelligence tools section of the larger family of tools known as performance management tools and applications.

Here is a very interesting view of the taxonomy of business analytics software as seen by IDC:

diagram of idc business analytics software taxonomy 2007

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