Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Real Time Analytics and the Dashboard Metaphor

Today, at the Power Pub on the Future of Analytics, the dashboard metaphor was taken out for several drives. With the excellent leadership of Richard Probst of SAP, we compared and contrasted Business Intelligence, the Balanced Scorecard and Analytics, and we also discussed the Real Time Enterprise. My contribution is that by making a small change to the metaphor, we can explore and understand the real time information requirements of the enterprise.

The notion of the dashboard is that as the executive or manager drives their enterprise, they need a set of indicators to show that they are on the right track, and these indicators are called a scorecard or dashboard. There were many riffs on the dashboard theme at the meeting. Someone even brought up the navigation system where the invariably female voice tells you, without the slightest trace of emotion, "Wrong way!" and then, without a hint of resignation, says "Planning a new route".

The problem with the dashboard metaphor is that driving a car is a singular effort, while driving an enterprise is a team effort, involving many different people who each have their own role to play. A better metaphor than steering an auto with the aid of a dashboard is navigating a ship. The captain, taking into consideration many factors including weather, channels, tides etc. plots the course and gives it to the helmsman. To keep the course, the helmsman watches the compass and continually makes minor changes to the helm to keep the ship on course.

In an enterprise, the executives plot a course like the captain of a ship. Executive decisions take time and consideration, they are planned for weeks and may take months to execute. Executives do not need real time information to make their decisions. On the other hand, like the helmsman, the people who are running the business day to day, hour to hour, or minute to minute, need to make constant small changes in course to keep the enterprise on track. These are the people who need up to date information to make the best decision. Thus real time or is it is often called right time information is the province of operational decision makers.

Real time information has many implications about how we construct our analytic information systems that will have to be discussed anon.

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