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.

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