How to take back control of your KPI dashboards

Last Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 by Johnathan Briggs

KPI dashboards have been criticised for ‘style over substance’, delayed decision making, and potential irrelevance (as my colleague detailed in a recent post).  Like my colleagues, I feel that many of these issues stem from one source: the lack of control afforded to managers by existing dashboard software.

An increasing number of businesses are making use of ‘software-as-a-service’ dashboard software, where the software is hosted online. This means that businesses are essentially outsourcing the running and maintenance of their dashboard software to SaaS providers. But, how exactly do these emerging programs give control back to managers, when outsourcing could actually mean some loss of control?

This article shows how SaaS dashboard software can give managers more control of their data. To illustrate how this can be done, I will address questions related to the power and ease of use of SaaS dashboard software, and the freedom managers have in accessing their data.

1. Ease of Use

As you might have already read, my colleague's post touched on an important point: managers need to have control of their data to make the most effective business decisions. However, current dashboard systems tend to be geared towards technical specialists.

Traditionally, a manager would request a KPI dashboard from tech support, who would then create it according to the exact specifications of the manager. These would then reach the manager perhaps a few weeks after the request.

This procedure does not always allow the best business decision to be made, as more data might be needed. This can mean yet another request and additional delays.

To solve this problem, a possible solution (which I believe to be the best one) is to remove the ‘outsourcing’ of dashboard construction. Because tech experts aren’t required to build the dashboards from scratch, online dashboard programs often have easy-to-use interfaces which allow easy construction of dashboards, as well as fast data analysis.

While being easy to use can often save managers valuable time, I feel that a more important innovation of modern dashboard software is that managers can now experiment with their data and charts themselves. I have mentioned before that managers often realise that they need more data to make their decisions after they’ve made a request; dashboard software now allows managers to make, edit and add to their dashboards in very little time, which allows them to add new data as soon as they realise they need it. It is this flexibility which allows the best decision to ultimately be made, and meaningful action to be taken at the most opportune moment.

2. Powerful Software

While SaaS Dashboard programs may be easier to use than traditional internal software, this doesn’t come with a sacrifice of power. When it comes to manipulating KPI data, easily performing data manipulation which would require complex formulae and procedures in other software packages (such as Excel).

In just a few mouse clicks, data can be permutated and manipulated to make KPI trends easier to spot, such as displaying quarterly/yearly data, creating rolling averages, and setting target values. This extends the manager’s freedom to make dashboards which are most useful to them, giving them more confidence in their decisions. Also, it further removes the need for tech support to have to interpret what is inside manager’s heads.

However, despite being more than capable of allowing business managers to make sense of their KPI data, online dashboard programs have some limitations due to their online platform. Due to the fact that they are integrated into a company’s infrastructure, internalised dashboard software is better at large Business Intelligence (BI) tasks, such as database mining. If a manager wants to answer a question he may already have about his business (i.e. “does demand for my product increase at the end of each month?”, these sorts of programs are perhaps the best bet. But, if what you’re looking to do is gauge the progress of your company and take action exactly when it is needed, then Target Dashboard and other such programs are the ones for you.

3. Freedom of access

The last point I will touch on in this blog post is one of accessibility. In order for the best possible business decisions to be made, anyone and everyone who has a stake in decision-making needs to be able to access a KPI dashboard whenever and wherever they are. However, as I already covered this in a previous blog, I’m going to focus instead on common questions which people may have about the security of their data.

As opposed to traditional dashboard software, which stores data internally within the company’s own information system, online SaaS dashboards import data from internal systems into dedicated servers used for running the program. As I mentioned at the start of this post, this may seem risky to some people due to the removal of internal control, but this actually removes the need to manage data, instead allowing all the required data to be stored in an area accessible to managers as well as tech support.

But what security do managers have concerning data stored on the SaaS dashboard’s servers? Most online dashboard software will have rigorous physical and virtual security practices (as Target Dashboard does), including guards and security cameras, as well as regular backups and encryption on all data, deterring virtual attacks.

With many online providers, access to the data servers themselves is restricted to only data owners (only a disreputable firm would try to remove your data ownership). This means that while your data is indeed being stored in a remote location, it is:

a) Physically and virtually secure

b) Still owned by you

c) Very easily accessible

Therefore, companies can rest easy knowing that their data is actually very secure while also being accessible.

To make the Best Business Decisions, Managers must have more Control

In the current business climate, having data at the right time and the right place is crucial to making the best decisions for business. However, traditional procedures and practices for creating business dashboards can result in dashboards not showing the data which managers need. To remedy this, managers must be given more control over their data and dashboard construction in a way that doesn’t require a huge amount of dedicated time.

This article has shown that online dashboard software programs are capable of giving managers this control. By offering ease of use while not sacrificing power, as well as the ability for dashboards to be accessed anywhere, SaaS Dashboard software (such as Target Dashboard) give power back to managers. For more about how online KPI dashboard software can make managers’ lives easier, take a look at my previous post on why executives choose online dashboards.