There still are, of course. But the latest generation of dashboard tools don't require an investment this big. Dashboard features have now been added to all sorts of systems (including Excel), vendors have created dashboards to sit on top of their various business systems, there are pared down dashboard-based BI systems, and there are web-based performance management systems with dashboard interfaces. All of which has put user-friendly dashboards and the at-a-glance views they can provide into the hands of businesses that could not previously afford them.
"Dashboards have developed into their own niche market," reports Lyndsay Wise, a business intelligence analyst and president of WiseAnalytics, "and this new and expanded approach is allowing lots more organisations to get a daily or intra-daily view of how they are performing."
Some of those in the finance function are benefiting – and in a variety of ways. There are role-based dashboards that have been configured specifically for CFOs, dashboards tailored to the needs of CFOs in specific industries, and dashboards that can address functions ranging from accounts payable to fleet management, or focus on specific areas such as cash flow and profit.
Debbie Vander Bogart, director and finance general manager at the Levi Strauss shared services centre, has used an accounts payable metrics dashboard to track productivity.
"We identify a key 'best practice' component, such as days purchases outstanding, and then use this to drive change and improve the process," she says.
Paper manufacturer Boise has also used dashboards to save 520 man-hours.
"We no longer need somebody to spend two hours every day manually running multiple reports from multiple systems," says its maintenance services manager Monty Bryant, who has improved decision-making, increased productivity, and prevented extra infrastructure and resource costs thanks to the use of dashboards.
Bringing finance to the people
At design and innovation consultancy Continuum, a range of dashboards are being used to provide managers across the organisation with better access to finance and non-finance information.
"Department managers can go into the software and look at their dashboard report, and when they have questions about what's in a number, they can drill down from this and access all of the underlying data," says Jim Ahern, CFO at Continuum. Having instant access to information through a series of graphs and charts has improved understanding of financial data, company-wide collaboration and alignment, and the quality of decision-making.
ShelterBox, a UK-based charity that delivers tailored survival toolkits to areas hit by disaster, is also exploiting the instant visualisation that comes with graphs and charts to help those inside and outside finance monitor KPIs and understand finance data, using dashboard software (including modules for bill of materials, purchase order processing, work orders, purchase ledger and financials).
"Currently we have around 15 people using the dashboard," explains ShelterBox accountant Rob Evans. "Everyone in management uses it to track the overall performance of the organisation and our eight key performance indicators," he says, though how those KPIs are conveyed varies.
"We can tailor each individual view to what the user needs or wants to see, and cater to the various managers' need for key facts and key data," Evans says. "My personal dashboard layout is focused on transport and materials, as those are the main costs," Evans says, who chooses to visualise these with bar charts.
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