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2 min read

The Race to Dashboards

Dashboards are to software applications what Starbucks™ is to coffee – omnipresent. In the same way it’s hard to drive into any North American town and not see one or two Starbucks (and usually across the street from one another), it’s hard to purchase any business software application – including ERP  applications – and not be told about, demonstrated to, and confused about the plethora of “dashboards” that come with it.

But – to continue the Starbucks analogy – sometimes you’re just not in the mood for coffee. Maybe what you need is a nice cold beer. Or maybe just plain water. The fact is that application dashboards have been (and continue to be) so popular that we get sold on the concept of dashboards without taking the time to identify how we should be using them – not to mention when we should be using them, and who should be doing the using. There’s no denying that dashboards are useful; but like a cup of hot coffee on a hot day in the summer, there are times when a dashboard just isn’t the best solution.

And that’s what we’re here to discuss.

Your typical dashboard is a graphic display of business information. Perhaps the most common image of a dashboard is one that shows sales trends; a line chart that goes up and down over a period of time showing the overall growth or decrease in an organization’s business. Valuable? Absolutely.

Bar and pie chart dashboards are also eagerly advertised in software applications. Revenue by product and payables per vendor good examples of where these kinds of dashboards shine.

The preceding examples have one obvious thing in common: the viewer. These dashboards are traditionally designed for (and used by) managers and executives. If you’re a salesrep, you know your numbers (and really don’t care about anyone else’s); if you’re in shipping, you’re less concerned with how many shipments go out each week than with which shipments are due to go out today.

But that’s not to say that salesreps and support reps don’t need dashboards; they do. What becomes clear on looking at these employees’ activities, however, is that they don’t need the same kind of business information as managers and executives, and thus the need for graphically-illustrated data is somewhat less.

Think about it – a dashboard is a dynamically-updated display of critical business data; how that data is displayed is up to you. So – whereas a graphic display showing the total receivables due per salesrep is of great value to a sales manager, a dynamic listing of which unpaid invoices are about to become past due would be of greater value to an individual salesperson.

Similarly, whereas a line chart that shows historical vendor delivery performance would be interesting reading for a buyer, a self-updating display of “deliveries due today for backordered items” would be incredibly useful to an individual shipping clerk.

Generally speaking, graphic dashboards are more heavily used by executives and managers who need to be kept aware of trends and who need to look at the “big-picture” of business activities. It’s the folks beneath the executives and managers – supervisors and their individual employees – who are tasked with keeping on top of the day-to-day business activities. And there’s no better way to empower these people than to provide them with “in-your-face”, dynamically-updated lists of critical business conditions and activities.

So – don’t let yourself get swept away by the “eye-candy” that is all-too-often presented to you as graphic application dashboards. They do look cool, and they do have their uses. But in the ERP world, it’s often the details that enable individual workers to succeed. Make sure that you can get those details to the staff who need them – and do so in a dynamic, self-updating dashboard format.

After all, the right information presented in the wrong format is about as useful as a cup of iced coffee in the middle of the winter . . .


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