The executive information systems (EIS) of the 1980s stayed in the executive suite and provided fancy pie charts of financial data. But now these business-intelligence tools have found a new home in the cubicles. They've also found some new names: "dashboards and scorecards," says John Hagerty, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston. "We are now seeing them all over the enterprise, and for a variety of reasons." Hagerty says more than half of the 135 companies he recently surveyed are implementing dashboards, which are also spreading into various nonfinancial departments.
Dashboards aren't just for financial data anymore. "At Southwest Airlines, they call them 'cockpits,' and they're specialized so that the guy in charge of putting peanuts on airplanes gets a different view than the guy who's in charge of purchasing jet fuel," says John Kopcke, chief technology officer at software vendor Hyperion Solutions Corp.
The Bottom Line
The payoff is that delivering dashboard data to frontline workers puts business intelligence in the hands of people who can exploit it to make money-saving decisions on a daily basis.
Motorola Inc., for example, deployed business-intelligence software from Informatica Corp. in Redwood City, Calif., last year to about 200 desktops in various purchasing offices. Falgun Patel, senior manager for sourcing systems at Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola, says his dashboard gives him unprecedented access to purchasing information.
"We got the system up and running in mid-2002," says Patel. "Prior to that, we had to pull information from a variety of spreadsheets and custom databases from locations all over the globe." In fact, this is still the case, but now Informatica's software does the pulling, and sourcing officers like Patel can get instant access to sophisticated metrics.
"It used to take 20 days for one of our indirect purchasing officers to collect global stats," says Chet Phillips, IT director for business intelligence at Motorola. "Now it takes minutes."
Patel says the result is smarter, faster decisions. "On my dashboard, I can immediately see our global spend with a particular supplier," he explains. "I can slice the data in a number of ways—various charts, historical records, purchases by departments, etc. This gives me exactly what I need to negotiate a better deal with the supplier."
He says the dashboard also allows him to be more proactive. "By combining the purchasing analytics on my desktop with current market conditions, I can determine whether it is better to negotiate for a commodity or go ahead and lock in a supply," Patel says.
The result is a fabulous return on investment. "We estimate that this system saved us about $15 million a month in 2002," says Phillips.
One reason for the democratization of business intelligence is that reality finally caught up with perception. "So often it is the high-level executive who is seduced by the 'Wow! Cool!' appeal of an EIS," says Deb Masdea, director of business knowledge services at The Scotts Co., a producer of lawn and garden products in Marysville, Ohio.
But, Masdea says, it is midlevel managers and analysts who need the data. "In reality, an executive is probably going to want hard copy, and if there is a question, he or she will pick up the phone. The midlevel managers are the ones who have to answer these questions," she says.
With this in mind, Scotts decided to push data analytics to the masses back in 1998. The project coincided with the company's adoption of a corporatewide SAP ERP system; the business-intelligence software is also from SAP AG.
Prior to this, a distribution manager would have to pick up the phone to get the latest statistics from manufacturing and distribution facilities. "Now that manager can open a report to get a daily snapshot of activity," says Masdea. "We can even pull in POS [point-of-sale] and inventory data from our big retail customers. If inventory at an outlet looks too low, the manager can call a sales rep or the buyer directly."
This is critical in the lawn and garden business, she says. "It is a very seasonal industry, which means it is easy to miss an opportunity," Masdea says. "These dashboards empower our managers to be proactive."
The Daily Snapshot
One place where dashboards are making inroads is in sales departments. At Honeywell Inc.'s Specialty Materials Division in Morristown, N.J., dashboards give everyone in sales a clear view into business performance—every day.
In September, the division finished installing 100 dashboards from Cognos Corp. throughout the sales department. "We wanted everyone to see the same information at the same time," says Jane Booth, director of data and knowledge management at the division.
Access is truly democratic. "Sales reps can see their own sales stats, but they can also see how the other salespeople are doing," she says. "And managers have access, too."
Booth says she likes the results. "We moved quickly from a monthly or quarterly view to a daily snapshot of what is going on. A big benefit for us is that now we have a common definition and view of all this information."
In a Glass House
Dashboards can have a big effect on communications—and company politics—in the organization.
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. in McLean, Va., is rolling out Hyperion's performance scorecard to its 1,200-person global operations team. Sophisticated analytics will allow the human resources department, for example, to "call up stats on turnover ... correlate these with training and possibly deduce that more departmental training is needed," says John Monczewski, manager of the consulting firm's balanced scorecard project.
And in the spirit of democratization, Monczewski says employees will be able to look at scorecards for all departments in the team. "I would say that 90% of the information is available to everyone," he says. "We want people to see as much as possible."
Why? "It is not enough to optimize your own performance," Monczewski says. "You need to see if this comes at the expense of someone else on the team. We don't want people to get locked into the notion that this is just a dashboard on personal metrics."
At CB Richard Ellis, a giant commercial real estate company in Los Angeles, desktop scorecards from PeopleSoft Inc. are used by 64 U.S. office managers to determine which brokers deserve to get perks or additional resources, based on the revenue they bring in.
Previously, that process lacked precision, says Sue Willess, senior project manager. "Now the office manager can quickly see revenues, expenses and salaries for each brokerage team," says Willess, and then determine whether a broker's request for, say, an additional office assistant is really justified.
In addition, managers can see the numbers for every other office. This kind of wide-open scorecard probably wouldn't work in some environments, but it's perfect for sales, where everyone thrives on competition, Willess says, adding, "Our office managers like to say now that 'you can run, but you can't hide.' "
There is a potential downside to this plethora of information: AMR's Hagerty calls it "metric madness."
"Dashboards and scorecards are about measuring," says Hagerty. "If measures are too broad and diverse, then dashboards can be a distraction." So, not surprisingly, the democratization of business intelligence comes with responsibility. "It requires management discipline," Hagerty says, "so you can focus on only those measures that really matter to the users."
Leon is a freelance writer in San Francisco.