In a project I delivered this week to a new customer in Australia, it hit me that I have combined dashboards with updating data records for long time. Intuitively, as I envision the customer’s line of thought, I usually allow the user to cross the lines and open an update screen straight from a dashboard.
In the traditional data-centric approach to business information systems, operational data is written to the database by way of transactions, while insight into the meaning of the accumulated data is achieved by aggregating the data and presenting it in reports, dashboards and other BI (Business Intelligence) tools.
The divide is deeply entrenched. The two have different terminology, applications, teams and user types. OLTP is the transactional discipline that serves the workers (or robots) who generate the data. OLAP is the BI (or analytics) discipline that serve management in steering the boat.
This makes sense in large corporations, where the roles and responsibilities of the different users are strongly partitioned. I can’t imagine a manager of a large division looking at a dashboard “drilling down” to update a data record in the back-end database.
Somewhere in the 1990’s, it became clear that dashboards can also empower the worker who generates data, and not only serve the top management. We started using dashboards as a mean to help line-of-business workers orient for better decisions.
On the other hand, personal computers became popular and business solutions became available for medium businesses, at times run by less than 5 people. In a small (or medium) organizations, it is typically the case that a single person has a mix of responsibilities. Now you could manage the business as well as update its underlying data.
One type of dashboards that best demonstrate this need is what I call the “Alerts Dashboard”. As opposed to summarizing trends, performance and historical data, the “Alerts Dashboard” is alerting on business exceptions. For example, if an order delivery is late – I want to know about it immediately. The dashboard is “pushing” this to my face, instead of me searching for late orders in the orders table. The natural “next-step” when you see an exception alert would be to handle the alert: open the late order, and take action on it. That “action” may be changing the delivery date of the order – updating the record in the operational DB.
Consider the following Personal Dashboard serving a sales person. Note how the dashboard helps the sales person to both see where he’s standing (“To Know”) as well as be alerted on exceptions (“To Do”).
The top 5 open opportunities listed up there are links allowing an immediate view (and update!) of the opportunities in question. This solution is serving a customer of mine in Vancouver, Canada. Needless to say, that the company’s management are served with their own dashboards, not connected to the operational data updating interfaces. However, for the sales person, this personal dashboard delivers clear and significant business value.
The solution I delivered this week, is a pre-sales opportunities management tool. It may serve a sales person, or even a sales manager, to streamline the pre-sales process, resolving obstacles efficiently and driving the opportunity to a timely closing, i.e., before the current quarter ends.
The below Opportunity Workbench implements an opportunity-centric approach, realizing the opportunity closing is the sole purpose of all data maintained, and that only when grasping all aspects of the opportunity in a single view, one can focus on navigating the opportunity towards an effective, quick closing.
Selecting any specific challenge/milestone/task of the opportunity in view, allows opening the update screen – right there! For example, the following image shows the Task Update screen of a task selected on the dashboard itself.
As the user saves the task he updated, the dashboard refreshes to reflect the current state of the opportunity.
Without closing the loop on the dashboard view, in this last example, the user would have needed to navigate to another working screen, search for the opportunity in question, open it, search for the task in question, open it, register the required update, and finally navigate back to the Opportunity Workbench to appreciate the impact of his update. The saving of time, continuum of thought and immediate reflection of the change has a clear significant business impact.
In conclusion, if you’re designing business solutions, think of the complete process and user experience you can deliver, even when thinking about the dashboards. Break the traditional silo-thinking and allow a full drill-down to update the underlying data, not only to view it, when a clear business value is identified.
If you’re a business manager, consult with your information systems advisor where can this approach bring value to you and your team, and what does it take to implement it in your settings.
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