Why do we need dashboards?

From origins and evolution to the current business context of dashboards.

Why do we need dashboards?

In a modern working environment, we often hear or talk about dashboards, an information hub that brings relevant information to our fingertips or more accurately our eyes. Before we dig into why we need a dashboard it helps to understand the origins of this term.

Why do we need a dashboard? Part 1 – An Origin Story

To do this we need to go back to the days of horse drawn carriages, bear in mind that in those days most places didn’t have paved roads. Just picture yourself driving a horse drawn carriage and you are taking your family to see relatives in the next town. It’s been hot and dry for a few days and the road is very dusty. As your horse trots along its hooves are kicking dust, dirt, debris and the by-product of its last meal.

All this detritus is peppering you, your clothes and passengers meaning you’ll need to freshen up before you greet your family. Plus, too much of your attention is focussed on steering your horse to avoid the worst of the road rubbish and not on the welfare and safety of your family. You decide to slow your horse down in the hope that you’ll minimise the impact of all this road-based debris thinking you can arrive a little later than planned.

diagram of a carriage dash board

It does reduce the amount of unwanted dirt, but you’ll still arrive dirty, frustrated and now late. What you need is something to protect you from all this unwanted dirt and distraction while your horse is dashing along. Autumn and winter are coming, and you know that dust will be a blessing compared to mud, pot hole splashes and shards of ice.

A mile or so further into your journey you spot a trader offering to eliminate all those distractions and promising to let you focus on the things most important to you while arriving refreshed and on time. After a short conversation and the exchange of a few shillings you are the proud owner of a dashboard, a device to protect you from everything that the road can throw at you while you horse dashes along the road.

Why do we need a dashboard? Part 2 – An Evolution Story

Fast forward a few years to the age of the automobile and the term dashboard is common place in society. The dashboard has evolved from a personal protection device into an information hub. I don’t know about you but my first car, a 1972 Hillman Avenger, had a very basic dashboard but told me many important pieces of information:

  • My speed
  • The amount of fuel in my tank
  • The temperature of my engine (very important with old cars)
  • Whether my turn indicator is on or off

Depending upon the age of your first car you may have had more information presented. The automobile dashboard has evolved over the years, moving from analogue information to enriched, electronic telemetry. New pieces of information have been added since 1972, such as revs, fuel economy, outside temperature, current music track, tyre pressure and much more. My current car allows me to configure what information I see with pages that provide me with contextual information.

Given that roads are busier, road safety is a national priority and fuel prices rarely go down it’s important that I can focus on the things that are important to me. Arriving at my destination safely, on time, cost effectively and legally. A modern dashboard enables me to achieve all these things and more while I focus on the most important thing – driving. I no longer have to check my fuel level, engine temperature or monitor my speed. My dashboard will alert me if any of these go out of tolerance and in many cases suggesting remedial action – here’s a list of location fuel stations, would you like to navigate to one?

Why do we need a dashboard? Part 3 – A Business Context

In business, a dashboard is just as critical as it was in the days of horse drawn carriages. We are all under pressure to do more with less, on time, under budget whilst complying with regulations and minimising risk. The timeframe expectations for answers is reducing from weeks or days to hour or minutes.

An enterprise dashboard enables leaders to monitor the key elements of their business and shift from being reactive to proactive. Focussing on the things that need attention and no having to go looking for them.

Many organisations have dashboards but most of them report on information from specific systems. Imagine if your car had a different dashboard for each component, one for fuel, another for engine temperature, yet another for speed and you had to look in different places for all of this information. It would be time consuming, present a risk to safety and distract you from keeping your eyes on the road.

A true enterprise dashboard brings together information from all parts of the business, collating and mashing up data from a wide variety of source systems, documents and reports into a single view of your business. Status flags will give you a visual indication of your key business measures, seeing something red in sea of green grabs your attention much more effectively than running several reports on a monthly or weekly basis. Drilling down into measures that are out of tolerance and identifying the factors that are impacting your business is a key requirement.

Dashboards are a great way to monitor your business, but you still need to take action when something is going wrong. Being able to create remedial action or risk mitigation plans, assigning owners then monitoring the status of these is just as important.

If you want to take control of your business, be better informed and have a toolkit that enables you to focus on the things that are most important to you then get yourself a dashboarding and performance management tool. Don’t be like our friend in part 1 of this article – arrive early, refreshed and happy.

About the Author

Dean Murphy

Dean Murphy

Dean is our InPhase evangelist and he loves talking to anybody and everybody about their business problems then exploring all the ways that InPhase can help understand and manage those pesky issues.

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