The Race to Dashboards

19 Dec

Dashboards are to software applications what Starbucks™ is to coffee – omnipresent. In the same way it’s hard to drive into any North American town and not see one or two Starbucks (and usually across the street from one another!), it’s hard to purchase any business software application – including HR applications – and not be told about, showed about, and confused about the plethora of “dashboards” that come with it.

But – to continue the Starbucks analogy – sometimes you’re just not in the mood for coffee. Maybe what you need is a nice cold beer. Or maybe just plain water. The fact is that application dashboards have been (and continue to be) so popular that we get sold on the concept of dashboards without taking the time to identify how we want to use them – not to mention when we want to use them, and who should be using them. There’s no denying that dashboards are useful; but like a cup of hot coffee on a hot day in the summer, there are times when a traditional dashboard isn’t the best solution.

And that’s what we’re here to discuss.

Your typical dashboard is a graphic display of business information. Perhaps the most common image of a dashboard is one that shows sales trends; a line chart that goes up and down over a period of time showing the overall growth or decrease in an organization’s business. Valuable? Absolutely.

Bar and pie chart dashboards are also eagerly advertised in software applications. Sales by product, region, or salesperson are good examples of where these kinds of dashboards shine.

The preceding examples have one obvious thing in common: sales. The sales department is by far the part of an organization that most benefits from dashboards that show trends and KPIs (key performance indicators). Human resources, on the other hand, doesn’t deal with the same kind of business information as sales, and thus the need for graphically-illustrated data is substantially less.

But just because there’s not the need for graphically-illustrated data in HR, that doesn’t mean there’s not the same need for dashboards. There is. It’s just that HR typically needs a different kind of dashboard – a non-graphic one.

Think about it – a dashboard is a dynamically-updated display of critical business data; how that data is displayed is up to you. So – whereas a graphic display showing how many hours of vacation time each employee has accrued might not be all that useful, a textual display of which employees are scheduled to be out of the office this week definitely has value. Similarly, whereas a line chart that shows how many employee certifications are due to expire over the next three months has dubious benefits, a dynamic listing of those certifications – along with their expire date, cost, and employee name – would be more than a little useful.

Generally speaking, graphic dashboards are more heavily used by executives who need to be kept aware of trends and who need to look at the “big-picture” of business activities. It’s the folks beneath the executives – departmental managers and their individual employees – who are tasked with keeping on top of the day-to-day business activities. And there’s no better way to empower these people than to provide them with “in-your-face”, dynamically-updated lists of critical business activities and tasks.

So – don’t let yourself get swept away by the “eye-candy” that is all-too-often presented to you as graphic application dashboards. They do look cool, and they do have their use. But in the HR world, it’s more often the details that spell the difference between success and failure. Make sure that you can get those details to the staff who need them – and do so in a dynamic dashboard format.

After all, the right information presented in the wrong format is about as useful as a cup of iced coffee in the middle of the winter . . .

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