• Strategy
  • CFO IT

Gauging Success

With dashboards, what you see is only part of what you get.

When business-performance dashboards began to appear a few years ago, they were positioned as a way to put key business data into executives’ and managers’ hands, a neat approach to presenting the analysis that business-intelligence (BI) software packages had produced. Graphs, charts, and other forms of data visualization were gathered into a single, summarized view, replacing the usual rows-and-columns presentation style of a typical BI report.

Since then, dashboards have become more flexible and useful, providing an ever-widening range of at-a-glance reality checks, a quick way to gauge everything from the performance of individual employees to the financial or operational health of a business unit. (For an example, see “BI Dashboards at a Glance.”) What’s more, managers are taking advantage of the interactive capability of dashboards to drill down and study the root causes behind an anomalous trend. And, analysts say, adoption of the technology is accelerating as users become more aware of its capabilities.

One driving force behind dashboards is the desire to put BI functionality — the ability to sort through data from various sources and arrive at actionable conclusions — into the hands of workers who are not trained business analysts or computer power users. Doctors, for example. “Our staff is able to rely on predefined targets and thresholds to see where they are falling short,” says Jonathan Rothman, director of data management at Emergency Medical Associates (EMA), a physician-owned medical group that manages emergency rooms for hospitals in New York and New Jersey. See is the operative word there, as the system that Rothman describes presents physicians with bar-code graphs of daily, week-to-date, and month-to-date information. By simply clicking on certain components of that visual presentation, users can, as Rothman says, “get a more interactive view of the data. That way, a physician can figure out why he or she didn’t reach certain performance goals.”

As an example, Rothman cites a performance measure called “left without being seen.” In hospital parlance, this means the patient came to the emergency room and waited, but finally left the facility, presumably to seek care elsewhere. “Some people arrive, get frustrated with the wait, and walk out the door,” he says. Not surprisingly, the rates at which people leave without being seen vary according to the type of facility — urban versus rural. Thus, the target threshold may vary. “In some cases, if two percent walk out, you’re happy,” says Rothman. “But elsewhere, it may be that you’re unhappy if half a percent walk out. Knowing the location of the facility makes the metrics more meaningful.”

Simply having this measure at their fingertips helps EMA’s physicians be more effective, he adds. If a facility exceeds its threshold for the number of patients who left without being seen, it means the service at that location is too slow and changes must be made. Physicians at that facility automatically receive E-mail messages alerting them that the facility has fallen below the performance threshold. “I used to have to sit down with doctors and review the data,” explains Rothman. The dashboard data and the alert, of course, are only a first step when it comes to achieving a certain performance level. “People must be able to see why the facility missed the threshold,” he says, “and what they should change to achieve our goals.”

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