Diving Into Executive Dashboards

Are you gearing up for a dashboard project? It could be dangerous. Let these CIOs guide you down the right path.

When Eastern Mountain Sports Inc. launched the first of its Gearage stores, warehouse-style outlets targeted at the extreme sports set, CIO Jeff Neville wanted to make it easy for company executives to monitor the success of the edgy new concept.

But when it came to building a strategic dashboard, Neville hit a brick wall that even the best-equipped climbers couldn't scale. The company hadn't established guidelines for evaluating the performance of Gearage stores. How should the stores be compared with other EMS outlets? And who should be responsible for the metrics that did exist?

"Using a dashboard to track the new stores was a good idea, but there wasn't a business process that made it a great idea," Neville says. "It was a good learning experience for EMS. Now we understand you just don't throw stuff up on the dashboard because it's cool."

The $200-million outdoor retailer in Peterborough, N.H., learned what many other midsized organizations have discovered: An effective dashboard is more than just a pretty interface. Giving executives real-time visibility into the core metrics that drive costs, revenues and efficiencies means conquering IT and business process challenges that are more complicated than they first appear.

"It's like the check-engine light in your car. It goes on, but it doesn't tell you what's wrong. There's no ability to drill down," says Colin Snow, vice president and research director at San Mateo, Calif.-based Ventana Research, which specializes in business process management. "At that point, we call it a 'flashboard.'"

Business intelligence is one of the hottest technology sectors around: This year it displaced security as CIOs' top technology priority, according to a 2006 Gartner Inc. survey of 1,400 CIOs. According to the study, BI license revenue is estimated to reach $2.5 billion this year, growing by more than 6% compared with last year.

This was first published in June 2006

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