March 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Beep beep, beep beep, yeah!

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He says a way to deal with that attitude is to point out that the dashboard provides a way for employees to be freed from mundane work. “Many of the more successful users of dashboards have the attitude of ‘I’m too busy to track everything, let the computer show me what’s going on,’” Gassman says. “If a dashboard makes someone’s job easier, they’ll embrace it.”

One of the keys to successful dashboard implementation is making sure anyone managing by dashboard understands what’s behind the data and why it’s important. “When we go to each VP level person, we explain the data,” Tannone says. “We tell them why you might see this or why that is happening. You have to train the management team to know that. A dashboard is not a panacea. You have to understand the underlying business data and processes.”

Furthermore, one-time training isn’t enough. New managers must receive the same training as those who were trained when the company deployed dashboards. “Turnover is ongoing and you have to standardize your approach so that new employees get the right training in their areas,” Tannone says.

Training is not difficult, Graff notes, as dashboards are designed so the data can be quickly and easily grasped. “It’s pretty intuitive,” he says. “On the left is last year, on the right is this year. Last year is in green, this year is in brown, and so on. You can just look at it and figure it out.”

Creating trust
Another key to buy-in is developing confidence over time that the dashboard is reporting accurately. “It comes down to an issue of trust,” Gassman says.

One of the most important ways to create that trust is to apply human brain power to analyzing the results, users say. For instance, managers must make sure they are comparing results in appropriate ways. At Eset.com, monthly orders flow in such a way that orders appear to be low in the first part of the month, so the company can’t make decisions on how the month is shaping up until nearly a week has passed, Tannone says. Anyone looking at the first few days of a month compared to the last few days of the prior month will make wrong decisions, he says. Another example, Tannone adds, is to compare Mondays to Mondays, Tuesdays to Tuesday, etc.

In addition, dashboards will be successful only if aberrations in patterns are tied to solutions. “The big thing is to integrate dashboard analysis with tools to fix the problems,” says Larry Harris, vice president and general manager of Progress Software Inc.’s EasyAsk, provider of site search technology. “It helps to find the rough spots, but once they’re found, the user shouldn’t have to go too far afield to know how to fix it.”

But the process doesn’t even end there, he adds. “The next is to provide the process so that after the fix is made, the user can test it,” he says.

Dashboards make the data available faster, which results in faster business improvement, says Overstock’s Graff. “You spend more time taking action on the data than you do on gathering the data,” he says.

Lowering the barriers
As a business grows, the data that dashboards can track grows. And while that’s always been true of all businesses, the technology requirements of being online, not to mention the new ways of doing business, make the situation more acute. But ultimate success of a dashboard requires that companies deploy dashboards properly. “Everybody needs a dashboard, but not everybody needs everybody else’s dashboard,” Gartner’s Gassman says.

The ultimate value of a dashboard is that small businesses can grow without the need to ramp up hiring, some say. Putters.com, for instance, runs a business that is experiencing 40% annual growth with a staff of five. “It’s very cost effective,” Frauenheim says. “It helps make the barriers to entry to the market practically non-existent.”

kurt@verticalwebmedia.com

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