Last week I had the chance to sit in on a review of an Executive Information System used in a leading Power Utility. The implementation was done on a mature infrastructure covering end-to-end from ERP, finance and planning, considered as the whole business. The parts that got my attention were the impressive management cockpit and analysis reports.
The leaning is very clear, in the fast pace of performance decision making, that dashboard management is not just the job of the technical person who build it or got it started and who may be long gone. Executives Managers know keeping things simple in performance management systems is vital for good decision support. Those who do this well succeed as it provides them rich depth in sub-sonic control to help them take their business to the next level.
In this case several hundred analysis reports had been created and categorized based on the organization structure. In the initial review when executives were asked which top 5 reports were used most, the consensus answer was:
“Frankly speaking, none of them are really used, as they contained too much detail and were too technical to understand”.
It turned out that the reports were used for analysis mainly by operational teams to troubleshoot problems.
Next, we looked at the Management Cockpit. I had high hopes on this. As the name indicated that management will certainly use it. After the walkthrough, and asking the same question, the same answer came.
“It doesn’t answer management questions and the user Interface is hard to read and interpret”
I reflected on a statement I had heard some time ago while working with a software vendor:
“Our Cockpit comes with very rich analytical report building, ad-hoc analysis and report distribution functionality, We believe that every user should be treated as a power user and be allowed to do in-depth ad-hoc analysis and report building without the need to do programming. “
It seemed they had all that but had overlooked the need for simplicity, an imperative in the concept of management cockpit’s, By making what seemed to be a lot of “noise” it limited value with the focus on only the following as shown in the picture ;
- Black wall focusing on the objectives
- Blue wall focusing on the resource
- Red wall focusing on the obstacles
- White wall focusing on the actions
The real question was did the Executive users need all those bells and whistles to manage their company. The concussion generally was they just wanted to get the performance facts in their hands fast and accurately. Most confirmed they know what is going on from other intuitive human management feedback systems, like management by walking around
A useful question was then asked
“Given they have the facts what do the Executive and Management need then.
The unanimous demand was for early alerts to be able to investigate and take corrective action on issues that may lead to failures and concluded their dashboard system must provide this as a means to serve as decision support tool.
We know all too well it is easy to dismiss Executive information Systems but this was so positive to hear these sorts of comments. The reality is Executive information Systems regularly fail or become as white elephants when they are not top down driven or don’t form part of a performance management culture. It may look impressive to provide a system that gives the appearance of being in control. But the big folly in this case was just being show piece did not make it automatically supported by the Executive and Key users.
We know most well run companies equate to the metaphor of the constant hum of power generation plant as what the management subconscious listens to and perpetually cross checks against. Any change in tone is vital to listen for to signal a potential problem. Without a system it is very hard to hear that as the human noise naturally dampens warning sounds until local issues are fortified. This can hamper or delay vital corrective or competitive improvement decisions.
Hence the conclusion was the dashboard dials themselves, like any engine or process, need regular review by the business leadership teams. This must ensure they provide the best intelligent feedback with realistic forecasting options to confirm the facts Managers already expect. And like any process they must be subject to monitoring and continuous improvement. For this their design and fine-tuning must be measured too so managers can improve their hearing of upstream, downstream and below the calm surface noise, that signal risks that things may go off track.