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dashboard Performance management dashboards are a hot topic. That's because dashboards have evolved into something much more powerful than what we knew just five years ago. They are no longer simply a collection of static images spit out by spreadsheets and tools. Today's business dashboards are powered by dynamic business management software and business intelligence platforms. The difference can be seen immediately and all the way down to your bottom line.
Just stride into an executive meeting in a company that's made the leap from spreadsheets to dashboards. More information is covered in less time. Tough problems are easier to solve. There are fewer folks saying, "Let me get back to you on that." Compared with spreadsheets, dashboards can help provide:

A more intuitive visualization to drive faster identification of trends and variances
Live connectivity back to the data stored in multiple sources
Data lineage showing where data came from and what transformations have been applied
Thresholds and alerts when things go wrong (such as missed sales targets and forecasts, expense overages)
Guided navigation from top-level KPIs to the underlying causes of trends and variances

Planning Your Dashboard Ramp-Up

The typical evolution of dashboard use in the enterprise starts with key performance indicators for the executive suite, and then progresses to department-level initiatives.

The object is to measure the keys to your business success, and provide a feedback mechanism that lets you make changes to your operation, based on the data conveyance. In other words, ask the question: If you look at the dashboard, can you immediately see something out of line and know where to go to do something about it?

We've assembled a summary of the most popular dashboard initiatives happening today, with examples of the types of analytics you can use to take your business or departmental operations to the next level.

Cash Flow and Profitability
There are many ways to measure cash flow and in each business the important measures will be different. Here are some common metrics that may be used:

Operating cash flow
Days cash on hand
Days sales outstanding
Cash conversion cycle
Gross profit margin
Operating profit margin
Net income percentage
Return on assets
Debt ratios

Operational Efficiency
Not long ago, operational efficiency metrics were used only by manufacturing-related industries. Modern dashboards are rapidly changing this reality, as nearly any business can benefit from business efficiency metrics when data is readily available. The specific measures that you choose will be dependent on your individual business, but here are some potential measurement ideas:

Manufacturing or service efficiency
Raw material usage
Scrap rates
Labor hours and staff capacity
Utility usage
Transportation costs
Inventory status and turns

Sales and Marketing
Gaining visibility into the sales process is the No. 1 driver for dashboards of this type. Executives want to know the sales pipeline, salesperson productivity, and other departmental metrics that can help predict whether or not the revenue target will be met. And if not, provide enough insight to take prudent action. But just as important are the costs of sales and marketing efforts that are helping drive them. Common sales and marketing dashboard KPIs include:

Sales by region, department, or person
Costs of sales
Fulfillment backlog
Marketing costs payback
Marketing budget
Marketing performance vs. goals

Customer Satisfaction

Another potentially important category of measurements is customer satisfaction. However, identifying a key measure of customer satisfaction might be more difficult. Time spent discussing your operation and identifying how to measure satisfaction, or more importantly dissatisfaction, can pay dividends as you attempt to grow your business. Potential measurements for this area might be:

Satisfaction measurements
Net positive promoter score
Customer order fulfillment statistics
Customer complaints
Complaint resolution over time

Five Factors for Successful Dashboard Initiatives
Here are five key factors that help influence difference between marginal and outstanding results. These are based on thousands of dashboard initiatives we have helped SAP customers implement over the years:

Define KPIs carefully and scale gradually. Effective KPIs measure results in terms of defining action and improvement, rather than merely monitoring performance. By selecting a few key metrics to begin with, organizations can obtain initial successes and add more strategic elements and complexity in subsequent phases.

Management support. Dashboard initiatives require the support of at least one senior executive who understands business challenges, and has the authority to ensure the project has the resources and buy-in required. Senior executives must remain involved to keep the initiative on track. Often dashboard projects begin with great focus, but attention shifts to other priorities, and those involved lose interest. Without ongoing, high-level sponsorship, dashboards projects are at risk of losing momentum and becoming irrelevant.

Simplicity. Dashboards should be easy to implement; understandable by most employees; and use and provide actionable information with an appropriate mix of operational, financial, and company specific KPIs.

Set an adequate budget. Like any IT initiative, there are many reasons why a dashboard project can run over budget. Often times, it's not the base software cost that goes over. Rather, it's the cost of customization and implementation-especially at companies that are new to dashboards.

Use the right software. Often, when an organization decides to begin a dashboard initiative, executives turn first to the software they have in house. Buyer beware: There are thousands of dashboard vendors, but only a few that will make sense for your business. Ideally, your dashboards will draw from a centralized information source, which integrates all the key areas of your business.

Gary Feldman

A pioneer in the ASP market, Gary Feldman formed I-Business Network in 1999 as an outsourced application hosting service focusing on mid-market ERP systems. He achieved the first ASP agreement with Sage Software (State of the Art), Advanced Software Development Company and SAP Americas (for SAP Business One). Feldman also helped I-BN to innovate ERP deployment through the use of pre-configured databases with rapid deployment and subscription/fixed fee pricing.

I-BN was one of the first ASPs in this space to provide virtualized services and cloud computing to the mid-marketl. It is currently developing tools and techniques for automation of both technical and ERP provisioning for SAP Business One and Sage MAS EES to reduce total cost of ownership through application hosting.

Feldman was formerly an executive with Accenture and was a CIO for a mid-market company. He began his career as a CPA specializing in audit and accounting information systems with BDO Seidman and founded a consulting practice with a regional CPA firm.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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