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Strategic Versus Tactical
Designing Dashboard Data Delivery

by Richard Blahunka, Product Manager , CBIPThursday, September 6, 2007

Dashboards as information-delivery vehicles are gaining in popularity at many levels in business communities today. As a result, the diversity of both data sources and means for populating these dashboards also is expanding. Oftentimes, information published via dashboards stems from formal and well-architected Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence systems that offer consistency and uniformity of information through rigorous processes and governance. Increasingly, however, information posted to departmentally deployed dashboards is more likely to stem from much less formal sources such as desktop spreadsheets and databases applications. These informal means of publishing information provide agile and rapid deployment of dashboard content, but tend to be very localized and often sacrifice enterprise consistency and uniformity.

Dashboard Components

Content created for dashboards is comprised of three components: data, business rules and information.

As mentioned previously, data may stem from a formal data warehouse, or informal desktop spreadsheets and databases. This collection of data is known as the Inventory of Data.

Business Rules
Business rules (or business terms, definitions, formulas, models, etc.) comprise the body of knowledge about the workings of the business. The collection of business rules within an organization is known as the Library of Business Rules.

Information is created by taking basic data and applying business rules to derive an answer to a business question. For example, profitability is derived information taken from the aggregation of revenue data and cost data, plus specific accounting rules to derive profitability numbers. The collection of information within an organization is known as the Portfolio of Information.

The use of data, business rules, and information is easy to illustrate with the common spreadsheet. For example, revenue data entered into a spreadsheet, does not alone answer the business question “what is total revenue?” To calculate total revenue, a formula (business rule) is entered into an appropriate cell. Then the business rule interprets the data within the spreadsheet to derive total revenue (information) as defined by the business rule in that cell. Total revenue calculated in this spreadsheet can be easily published in a dashboard.

This spreadsheet example can be extended to all dashboard content throughout the enterprise. Just imagine all of the individual pockets of data, business rules, and information that comprise an organization’s Inventory of Data, Library of Business Rules, and Portfolio of Information. The likelihood that all this disparate published dashboard content is consistent and uniform across a company is highly improbable. It is much more likely that these collections for use as dashboard content are unorganized, inconsistent, and not of a uniform nature.

Localized or Enterprise Measures

Business rules tend to be localized within an organization and are rarely consistent from department to department or even individual to individual. For example, does everyone in the organization agree and use the same definitions and formulas for calculating revenue, gross margin, customer counts, write-offs, etc.? Do the marketing, sales, finance, and billing departments all recognize revenue using the same definitions and formulas? Do the sales and billing departments count customers the same way? Is profitability calculated the same way by everyone?

Achieving accuracy and consistency for all dashboards within an organization is both a challenging and expensive task. So the question arises, is it really necessary for dashboard content to be consistent throughout the enterprise? That depends upon the purpose of the dashboard.

Strategic dashboard content tends to be enterprise-wide; therefore, strategic dashboard content needs to be absolutely consistent across the entire enterprise. Deploying strategic dashboard content is much more time consuming and expensive to deploy and maintain. That being said, the number of purely strategic dashboard measures may be relatively small compared to tactical dashboard measures. The significantly smaller number of strategic dashboards makes the challenge of enterprise-wide consistency quite doable.

Tactical dashboard content tends to be localized and self-contained within a department or group; therefore, is much less likely to be consistent across the enterprise. If the purpose of the dashboard is strictly localized, then it is less important to be consistent across the enterprise. More important is for the tactical dashboard to be consistent over time; that is, keeping the business rules consistent and not constantly changing them. However, if localized dashboard content is rolled up into other enterprise-wide dashboards, then consistency across the enterprise is important, otherwise inconsistencies will occur and questions asked as to why the numbers do not match.

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