I had the pleasure this week of talking about performance dashboards and analytics to more than 100 CFOs and financial managers at CFO Magazine's Corporate Performance Management Conference in New York City. They were a terrific audience: highly engaged with great questions and many were taking copious notes. Many were from mid-size companies. The dashboard topic was so popular that the event organizers scheduled a second three-hour workshop to accommodate demand.
I normally talk about business intelligence (BI) to IT audiences, so it was refreshing to address a business audience. Not surprisingly, they came at the topic from a slightly different perspective. Here's a sample of what they were thinking about:
- Scorecards. The CFOs were more interested in scorecards than I anticipated. Since there are entire conferences devoted to scorecards (e.g. Palladium and the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative), which have largely attracted a financial audience, I thought that this would be old news to them. But I was wrong. They were particularly interested in how to cascade metrics throughout an organization and across scorecard environments.
- Metrics. Not surprisingly, many found it challenging to create metrics in the first place. Most found that "the business" couldn't decide what it wanted or achieve consensus among various departmental heads. We talked about the challenges of "top-down" metrics-driven BI versus bottom-up ad hoc BI, and the tradeoffs of each approach.
- The "Business." Since I've always considered finance to be part of the "business" it was surprising to hear finance refer to the "business" as a group separate from them. But, then it dawned on me that finance, like IT, is a shared service that is desperately trying to move from the back-office to the front-office and deliver more value to the business. Many CFOs in the audience have astutely recognized that providing consistent information and metrics via a dashboard is a great way to add value.
- Project Management. The CFOs didn't have much perspective on how to organize a dashboard project. They didn't realize that you need a steering committee (e.g. sponsors), KPI team (e.g., subject matter experts plus one IT person) and a development team, and that the team doesn't disband after the project ends (i.e. project versus program management.)
- Two to Tango. They also seemed to recognize that the business is the primary reason for failed BI projects not the IT team. If the business says it wants a new dashboard but the sponsor doesn't devote enough time to see the project through or free up the time of key subject matter experts to work with the BI team, the project can't succeed. Performance dashboards must be business owned and business-driven to succeed.
- Requirements. Many CFOs also didn't realize that you need to development requirements (i.e., define metrics) before purchasing a tool. They admit that many projects they've been involved in have put the "cart before the horse" so to speak.
- Technology. Not surprisingly, the CFOs had little understanding of the tools and architecture required to drive various types of dashboards. I don't talk much about dashboard technology and architectures to IT audiences because they know most of it already. But it's all new to the business, even basic things like how the data gets into a dashboard screen.
- Build Once, Deploy Many Times. Perhaps the biggest revelation for many business people was the notion that you build a dashboard once and configure the views based on user roles and permissions. They didn't understand that one dashboard could consist of separate and distinct views for sales, marketing, finance, etc. and that within each of those views, the data could vary based on your level in the organization and permissions.
- Change Management. Most recognized change management as a huge issue. Most had experienced internal resistance to new performance measurements and were eager to share stories and swap ideas for ensuring adoption.
What I Learned
I learned a few things, too. First, three hours is not enough time to address all the topics that business people need to learn to have a working knowledge of performance dashboards. Thankfully, I covered the most important topics in my book, "Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business" which just came out in its second edition.
Second, I realized I have a lot to offer a business audience. Although I've been addressing IT audiences for the past 22 years, the way I present information resonates better with a business audience. It's not that I avoid technical issues; rather, I place technology in a business and process context and provide pragmatic examples and advice so people can apply the information back in the office.
Hopefully, I'll be delivering more business-oriented presentations in the coming months and years!
Posted February 2, 2011 11:23 AM
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