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Making the business case for dashboards


May 2011

Published by

Charles-Etienne Lavoie

How are dashboard projects sold to upper management? How does one prepare the ground work to present a dashboard business case? In this article we will go through some things to consider when evaluating the enterprise dashboard business case. This is by no means a complete list, but some key points that are part of the ground work leading to a business case.

Bottom-up business case strategy

The first place to start is to examine the situation in the corporate landscape. We will assume here that dashboards are not already in place in the solution ecosystem... Or are they? I say this because dashboards have been lately been incarnated within dedicated software solution and packages, but the reality might be totally otherwise. The real dashboards currently in place might be under the radar of IT, lying deep in aggregated excel documents maintained by an executive assistant somewhere, or the first few lines of key reports looked by a wise (and secretive) sales manager. Finding those hidden gems are key to understanding how information is treated and transformed to give added value. This is even more true because those systems posses two of the critical factors of a successful implementation: organic maturity and user adoption.

Organic Maturity

Aggregated dashboards are product of information evolution in the sense that their use have been refined and defined through trial and error. Metrics might also have evolved from such experiments. They have survived the test of time.

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User Adoption

They are useful tools because they provide insight and added business value. As such they are used. Here the business case lies it automating and cleansing the process to ensure higher availability and better data quality.
Others critical factors to consider

Kpi alignment
: The presence of key corporate indicators aligned with corporate strategy and broken down into strategic, tactical and operational segments. In such a case a dashboard will serve to expose the metric's behaviour and provide insight. Predictive analysis and other techniques also can come into play in building a dashboard business case.

Data quality & Data Governance
: Users will never trust data that they cannot validate themselves and understand. If there is no way to provide users with this feature, a dashboard initiative will have a hard time gathering momentum. Support without trust will always be a hard sale with many hidden pitfalls down the road.

Boil the Ocean or Divide and Conquer?

Whenever possible, I personally always try to build on existing processes that have proven their points to the stakeholder. As a proof of concept this is a great showcase of the technology and the work is so much simpler because all the metrics, business rules and business value are already there. Automation and cleansing is presented as added value, and which executive rarely object to. Who would not like to have their numbers faster, and cleaner? This is the "wedge in the door" technique that IT can build on to provide the added features that are found in dashboard solutions.
Key points

Take the time to find the right processes and the right stakeholder, showcase a demo and the business case will have a strong foundation.
Start small and let the momentum carry the initiative; Let the business community provide the wind, but keep a firm grasp on the rudder.