How can a finance professional provide timely and relevant information for business decision makers? In a previous post we looked at some steps for creating a company wiki for organization-wide knowledge sharing. Another routine and systematic tool for business information sharing is a dashboard. The CPA Journal recently ran an article about Developing Dashboards for Performance Management, and here are some highlights from the article:
- Dashboards focus on goals. Managers have the responsibility to achieve business objectives, and they can make the best decisions when they have concise, periodic updates about defined organizational metrics.
- Dashboards provide a quick visual glimpse into key performance metrics. The authors suggest having four to seven metrics on the dashboard to avoid information overload.
- Dashboards can highlight financial as well as non-financial elements of business performance. The balanced scorecard approach, for example, assesses a company on the dimensions of financial, customer, internal processes, and learning and growth.
- Dashboards should be user-oriented. Will the dashboard be used for reporting strategic, analytical, or operational information? This depends on the needs of the users. Also, the design and formatting should be tailored based on the type of user.
- In choosing a dashboard technology platform, consider that ERP systems such as SAP and Oracle have built-in reporting and analysis modules. Alternatively, data can be drawn from databases into Excel to develop dashboards that can automatically refresh periodically. Excel dashboards can be developed from scratch, templates can be purchased, or skilled consultants can develop dashboards.
- The dashboard development process includes defining the objective and the metrics, seeking user input, building and testing the initial dashboard, publishing the dashboard, and monitoring its use.
- Dashboard design elements can highlight important information, communicate information concisely, and engage users. The concept of “gestalt” can help balance various design elements to tie together the “big picture” with the details of the dashboard.
Dashboard development is a good skill for finance professionals to add to the professional toolkit. In addition to developing dashboards to share and analyze key performance indicators, a trusted go-to finance professional can provide decision support to help senior management use broad sources of information, including dashboard metrics, to steer the company in the right direction.