Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dashboard Design

We had a lot of fun at the SDForum Business Intelligence SIG September meeting where Stephen Few spoke on "Why Most Dashboards Don't Work". Here we are talking about Information Dashboards that let an executive pilot their enterprise to new levels of performance. Stephen is an expert on the visual presentation of information, he has just published a book on Dashboard design and he has spoken previously to the BI SIG.

The fun came from looking at examples of dashboards that had been culled from the web and picking holes in what they presented. In practice it was surprisingly easy for audience members to find problems in the dashboards shown. From these examples and some critical thinking, Stephen pulled out a list of 13 things to avoid in dashboard design and a shorter list of things to do to get a dashboard design right.

However the thing that I found most compelling about the presentation came right at the end. Stephen had judged a dashboard design competition for DMReview and he showed us some of the entries. Then he showed us a dashboard that he would have entered had he not been a judge. Of all the dashboards presented, this was the one that showed us a great deal of information in a small space and discretely guided us to the information that most required our attention.

If you want judge, you can download a version of the presentation from the Business Intelligence SIG's Yahoo web site. We had to cut the size of the file down to make it fit. You can also buy Stephen's book on dashboard design. I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Latest HP Mess

There is a lot of talk in the valley about the latest HP boardroom brouha. It seems like not a year goes by without some new HP management upset. These upsets seem all the worse for the high regard in which the company was held. If you are upset by what seems to have become of such a great company, let me set the record straight.

Firstly, remember that the great company founded by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard is now called Agilent. While Agilent seems to have lost some of the Hewlett-Packard way, it is not as bad as what has happened to HP, the fat child spun out of the original company several years ago. HP, the computer company, started out life as couple of divisions out of 20 that lost their way.

Part of the Hewlett-Packard way is that divisions grow organically and then split when they reach a certain size. This way no division dominates, they operate as a set of peers. The Computer and Printer divisions eschewed this tradition by just growing until they were big enough to swallow the rest of the company. Worse, the Computer division gave up on organic growth and for much of the last 20 years has been growing by acquisition.

All these acquisitions, particularly the large ones have diluted the blood to the point where we can on longer see a trace of the founding principals (pun intended). So do not feel sorry for HP, it is not the company you thought it was, it is just another big dinosaur well on its way to extinction.