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Data Warehousing: Dashboards and Scorecards

The early and mid-1980s experienced a frenzy in executive information systems (EIS) technology, a sort of predecessor to the 1990s data warehousing boom. Early EIS technology received a mixed welcome and sort of faded away near the end of the decade.

Some people therefore consider EIS to be a predecessor to, but not a relative of, data warehousing. When you consider the aspect of entire systems, this view seems accurate because many EISs were built on top of relatively simple data extracts with a narrow range of content.

In this new era of data warehousing, though, EIS systems are characterized by portals that contain dashboards and scorecards. Therefore, EIS is alive and well — just more mature and informative. Dashboards and scorecard environments best serve the broad category of users who want to receive key business information and indicators that can help them understand how the users are performing.

The analogy of your car’s dashboard is very useful here. You can look at your tachometer to find out that your idle speed is somewhere near 1200 RPM. You also realize that the red line on the tachometer signifies danger — and therefore, you avoid revving the engine to that level. This is your dashboard.

If, for some reason, you notice that the engine is idling faster — say, 3000 RPM — you might take your car to the mechanic for further analysis. The mechanic wants to investigate the details, making him or her similar to users of query and reporting technology. These individuals are very interested in the detailed information that can assist in fixing a “red line” problem.

There are subtle differences between dashboards and scorecards. In general, a dashboard presents current information on your operational performance while a scorecard shows your performance against a plan or set of objectives.

Dashboard and scorecard users certainly don’t want to sift through reams of data from dozens or hundreds of reports. The philosophy of the dashboard and scorecard user is, “Tell me what I need to know — just a little information so that I know I’m on the right course — and please don’t make me work too hard to get to it!”

Results either from querying and reporting tools, or from business analysis tools, typically feed dashboards and scorecards. A tool in one of those categories does the work, and a dashboard or scorecard makes the result available to the user.

Dashboards and scorecards aren’t only for executives! And executives don’t use only dashboards and scorecards to the exclusion of other categories of tools, either. Every person driving a car has a dashboard, and in business, all employees can have their own personal dashboards or scorecards to align their activities across the enterprise.

Dashboard and scorecard technology involves two major types of environments:

  • Briefing books: A briefing book is an electronic (though it can be printed) sequence of key information and indicators that someone regularly uses for decision-making or performance monitoring. Users typically don’t “wander” through information; rather, they take a relatively particular path.

  • Command centers: The command center might be a console of on-screen push-buttons (perhaps a lot of them), each of which shows the user a different kind of information — a report, document, image, or indicator.

Command center interfaces are tailor-made for multimedia integration environments, such as web pages presented on your company’s intranet. From such an environment, you can integrate key components, such as the enterprise strategy, high-level plan focal areas, and performance across the organization. Incorporating the dashboard and scorecard information into such a web page, along with nontraditional data, makes for a very robust business intelligence environment.

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