In baseball, there was the Field of Dreams. In IT and finance, there was the BI dashboard.
While business intelligence software has been around for decades now, the promise of a one-size-fits-all dashboard with the most actionable data has proven maddeningly elusive. This may be because, in most cases, integrating BI across all the disparate parts of an organization is so complicated that funnelling relevant information tends to be almost a bespoke project created by IT and then passed on to areas like finance.
A recent post on The Next Web suggested that, after years of trying and failing, it’s time to retire the idea of a BI dashboard entirely. In fact, it’s a metaphor that my never have really worked to meet the kind of challenges most business leaders face, including the CFO:
“There is simply too much data for businesspeople to know what matters most, and in which context. It’s not as simple as looking at the dashboard of your car, seeing that you’re running out of fuel and finding a gas station. Executives can glance at dashboards all day long and still not know which important changes are taking place now.”
To be fair, few executives would probably want to be so dependent on a dashboard that it becomes their sole basis for decision-making. The only dashboard that has really worked for most firms – although they seldom describe it as such – has been Excel spreadsheets, and industry successes (and failures) have shown that it’s better to build off Excel than try to develop entirely new and complicated reporting mechanisms that your employees won’t adopt.
The People Behind (And In Front Of) The Dashboard
No matter what dashboard you use, there’s no question that finance departments continue to see value in BI.
In fact, earlier this month American Express published its ninth annual CFO Research Global Business and Spending Monitor, which showed BI was the among the top tech investment by 38% of North American respondents. The report notes, however, that BI needs to be complemented by the kind of insights that come from expert members of the CFO’s team.
“When asked which areas are most important for increasing finance’s contributions to their companies’ success, respondents rank deeper external knowledge of industries and markets, as well as a deeper understanding of their own businesses, as highly as they do sophisticated analytical skills and better technical skills,” the report says.
In other words, businesses may never have the ultimate dashboard, but by leveraging interfaces that are straightforward and weaving in the knowledge of staff with the proper experience, they might get closer than they’ve ever been before.