That's a Great Million Dollar Dashboard, too Bad it's Useless

It shouldn't come as a surprise that enterprise dashboards are picking up steam in the federal government. The data and business architectures of federal organizations have evolved to a point where quantitative information is more readily available and the desire for organizational visibility is approaching an all-time high in government. But that doesn't change the fact that virtually all dashboards I've seen implemented are essentially useless.

The first thought many have with the lack of usefulness of dashboards is that the data isn't complete, relevant, or accurate. Another thought is that the information isn't presented clearly or using the right 'widget'. The reality however is much more fundamental: Dashboards are useless because no one manages anything by staring at gauges or graphs. Even in factories with real dials, there's usually an alarm or bell that goes off when certain thresholds are exceeded. These alarms are the real value, in the corporate and governments worlds, we call these business rules; and business rules are the key to using data to manage. Business rules enable a fundamental point of leverage that technology and data drives: to manage by exception. Managers don't want to know what activity is proceeding as desired, they really want to know when something goes off course. In reality, the viewing or 'hits' curve for most dashboards looks like this:

So instead of dashboards, where should the focus on investment in visibility and management go? Simply put, in workflow and business rules. In defining and automating processes in software to drive activity, followed by the development of business rules which dictate what thresholds are appropriate for visibility by management or leadership. Based on this, dashboards should really become lists of items which exceed certain thresholds.The accounts payable (AP) manager doesn't need to see a dial showing invoices processed per day, what he/she really needs is to see all invoices not approved but greater than 15 days old ( a yellow queue) and perhaps all invoices greater than 25 days old without final approval for payment (a red queue). If the AP manager wants to look at volume, perhaps on an individual level, he/she can run a report (or better yet, have a business rule that sends the report automatically to his/her inbox every week or month). But under no realistic scenario does the AP manager need a dial showing real-time processing levels or even the percentage based on aging - to react to it would require the detail a queue provides anyway.

Bottom Line: Invest in the development of business rules and activity queues rather than fancy dials and gauges which don't really help individuals manage.