Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dashboards - a beginning

I was recently asked about dashboards and where one should begin when the boss comes in and says I want a dashboard. I thought about this for a short while and decided what I needed to do was step back and look at the dashboard concept and explain my understanding in simple terms. I share those thoughts here and invite your comments.

Dashboards are unique to an organization and what works in one place will not be suitable in another. But of course, it all depends on your definition of a dashboard. The one that I like and the one that keeps me out of mischief is this one:

A dashboard or dash board is a panel located under the windscreen containing indicators and dials such as the tachometer / speedometer and odometer.

I bet you never thought it was so easy.

Seriously, look again at this definition and you will see the foundations of business dashboards. It is not the dials such as the tachometer, odometer and fuel gauge that are important. It is atually not the numbers either.

What is really important is the meaning or significance (aka KPI) that we apply to these numbers. Thus, depending upon the situation, a speed of 100 mph might be considered excessive, particularly if being chased by an irate police officer down a busy city street. Do the same thing on a race track and you might be considered a menace for going too slow. But do 100 mph on an autobahn in Germany and no-one will bat an eyelid because it is perfectly acceptable. You can see that the gauge, in this case the speedometer, and the reading from the gauge, 100 mph, are by themself meaningless as a KPI. It is only when you apply the criteria which states that 100 mph must be highlighted in red because it is excessive that a real KPI is born.

The concept of dashboards in automobiles and in business are the same - they give us a snapshot of critical information at a moment in time. If you do happen to be running out of petrol the dashboard will start the indicator to bring this fact to your attention. It does this by turning on a light or sounding a bell when a certain low point in the petrol tank is reached.

Similarly, a business dashboard needs to provide all of the critical information that is needed to run an organization's daily operations. It will be a snapshot in time, probably midnight, that tells an organization if it is spending cash too fast; or whether the percentage of patients who needed a repeat visit is higher than 5%; or whether the number of requests for service this week exceeded the number from last week by more than 10%. You will notice that the common factor here is the rule being applied to the data to indicate that something needs to be brought to the organization's attention.

In a business, you can imagine that every employee has a steering wheel and an accelerator pedal. However, it is not necessary that everyone gets a full-blown dashboard. Since the user roles are different they do not need the same level and kind of information. The worker bees need to work and the managers need to manage. Typically only the higher executives will get the full dashboard priviliges. They want to manage by exception and will only become really interested when something out of the ordinary happens.

If an organization is truly managing by exception then it will have a goal to move routine work from the manager to the employee, this leaving the manager more time to manage. By creating a dashboard that displays the KPIs that the manager is interested in, a quick glance to see that all is green is all that is needed. Good KPIs, and thus good dashboards, reduce micromanagement which is good for everyone involved.

Thus, this is where you ought to begin. You need to find snapshot metrics that when compared to against a set of criteria will have a value above, equal to or below the criteria. Since the manager has access to the dashboard he or she can tell at a glance if the company is running out of petrol, or whether the dashboard can be closed for another day and he or she can get back to running the company.

Now that reminds me, golf anyone!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Do not upgrade to Internet Explorer 7

Hi everyone
Based on recent postings in the OTN forums and from investigations with my own clients I have to warn you not to upgrade to Internet Explorer 7 if you are using Discoverer Viewer. After you upgrade to IE 7 you will not be able to drill to a related item because somehow IE 7 prevents you from seeing the list of items that you could drill to. This is certainly true if you are using Discoverer Unfortunately, I have no idea whether the latest patch (link to Abhinav's recent posting) fixes this. Does anyone know and has anyone been brave enough to try?

An interesting observation here is that IE 7 is included in Microsoft's automatic updates for XP. Therefore, if you have automatic updates enabled you may come in tomorrow and if you are not paying attention you could find that you have been upgraded. Microsoft state (link) that when the update is downloaded you will be presented with a window that will inform you that IE 7 is ready to install. You should not click Install when so prompted.

IE 7 is currently not certified for use with Discoverer and is also not certified for use against Oracle E-Business Suite 11i (link to Steven Chan's recent posting) Until such time as Oracle certify IE 7 for use against Discoverer and / or E-Business Suite I recommend turning off Microsoft's automatic updates.

Here is a workflow to alter the upgrade policy on Windows XP:

    1. Launch Control Panel
    2. Click Security Center
    3. Click Automatic Updates
    4. Deselect Automatic by selecting one of the other options
    5. Click OK

On my own PC I set this to Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them. I will then be able to select which updates I want. I certainly don't want to miss out on the other updates, and I certainly don't want to install IE 7 by any act of carelessness or confusion on my part.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Are you Microsoft Vista ready?

You've probably heard that Microsoft will be releasing a new version of Windows next year. You've probably heard that the name of the new version is Vista, but is your PC Vista ready?

If you are not sure whether your Windows XP-based PC will be able to run Windows Vista, you can download the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor RC.

Did you also know that Vista will be coming in six editions?

The planned six editions are:

Starter - will be exclusively* available in emerging markets, and is designed for a beginning PC user with additional tools and tutorials to make it easier to use.
* It is not scheduled to be available in the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, or other high income markets as defined by the World Bank.

Home Basic - for basic home needs such as e-mail and internet browsing.

Home Premium - for the best in home computing and entertainment.

Business - for small and mid-sized organizations. For small businesses, Windows Vista Business will help keep PCs running smoothly and more securely so you will be less reliant on dedicated IT support. For larger organizations, Windows Vista Business provides dramatic new infrastructure improvements, enabling your IT staff to spend less time focused on the day-to-day maintenance of PCs and more time adding strategic value to your organization.

Enterprise - for the needs of large, global organizations and those with highly complex IT infrastructures. Windows Vista Enterprise will include built-in tools to improve application compatibility with previous versions of Microsoft operating systems, as well as with UNIX operating systems. In addition to all of the features available in Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise is designed to provide higher levels of data protection using hardware-based encryption technology. It also includes tools to improve application compatibility and enables organizations to standardize by using a single worldwide deployment image. Windows Vista Enterprise will only be available to customers who have PCs covered by Microsoft Software Assurance or a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement.

Ultimate - for both work and entertainment. According to Microsoft it will be the most comprehensive edition of Windows Vista. They claim it is the first operating system that combines all of the advanced infrastructure features of a business-focused operating system, all of the management and efficiency features of a mobility-focused operating system, and all of the digital entertainment features of a consumer-focused operating system. For the person who wants one operating system that is great for working from home, working on the road, and for entertainment, Microsoft says that Windows Vista Ultimate is the operating system that lets you have it all.

Click here to see more high-level information about the different editions of Windows Vista and see which one best fits the way you use your computer.

Of course, just because your PC is Vista ready I would not advise you to upgrade when it first comes out. Like me, you will have to wait until Oracle certifies the product that you are using.

However, you can rest assured that Armstrong-Smith Consulting will be getting hold of a copy of the new operating system just as soon as we can and will be testing Discoverer to see how well it works. I'll then be making further postings.