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How Executive Information Systems Evolved Into Performance Dashboards

Originally published November 10, 2009

Back in the ‘90s if you wanted a quick and easy way to know how your company was performing, there were two things that were required. First, your company needed to have an EIS or executive information system in place. Second, in most cases you needed to be in senior management to access it. Obviously, this severely limited the number of users and, ultimately, the benefits to be obtained by enabling people to get more in tune with company performance. In the end, this didn’t really matter that much since EIS systems rarely lived up to their hype anyway. The reason I am including this little bit of history is that I think it is helpful to have a solid understanding of the evolution of these systems in order to effectively deploy more successful information systems in the future.

EIS was all the rage in the mid to late '90s, promising easy-to-use graphical displays of key information for technology-fearing executives. I was at Hyperion Software (formerly IMRS) at the time, and we had an EIS product that was quite successful from a sales perspective. However, about 80% of the software sold ended up as shelfware. I find this to be a true measure of whether a technology promises more than it can deliver. Our other products were “boring” but essential number-crunching financial applications. EIS was flashy and sexy and actually helped pull some of the less exciting products into the deal. So what was wrong with EIS?

For starters, the whole concept of information just for executives was flawed. What about the rest of us, don't we need information too? In addition, I believe that the real problems were in the implementation details. All of the data for the EIS was staged and static. You can't keep your finger on the pulse of your business if the data doesn't reflect current conditions because it hasn't been refreshed in awhile. Of course, all the issues of data quality that we are better at addressing today negatively impacted the validity and accuracy of the displayed information. Also, navigation (drill-down, drill-across) was limited to a pre-programmed path of static reports set up by IT as they tried to anticipate how the executives would want to move through the system (never an easy task). That brings us to the real killer: determination of the key information that would populate the EIS. This was usually done by IT with minimal input from the executives. In most cases, this translated into taking a handful of existing reports that had been around for decades and shoveling them into the system. This rarely reflected what the executives should really be focused on. It should be noted though that even with the latest and greatest technologies being deployed today, this problem still exists at some organizations.

EIS Today

So where is EIS today? Essentially it has been reborn as the performance dashboard, a key component of business performance management (BPM). Learning from the mistakes of the past, leading systems are dynamic, interactive and real-time when they need to be. In the best implementations, there are a series of interconnected cascading dashboards so everyone in the company can see the information that is relevant to them. As mentioned, there is still the risk of populating these dashboards with the wrong information; but if companies follow established best practices, they will start at the top with executive input on current strategy and establish a cross-functional team to flesh out the details.

In most companies, it is also understood that while the dashboard sits at the top of the information pyramid, it cannot sit there alone. Without master data management (MDM), planning and budgeting, consolidation, governance, risk, compliance and several other systems and initiatives, the dashboard’s potential value is greatly diminished. The good news for business performance management is that, unlike EIS, most vendors and many companies (usually with the help of experts deploying best practices) are getting it right. Thanks to them, BPM is bucking the normal trend of three-letter acronym initiatives and actually living up to its hype.

  • Craig SchiffCraig Schiff

    Craig, President and CEO of BPM Partners, is a pioneer in business performance management (BPM). Craig helped create and define the field as it evolved from business intelligence and analytic applications into BPM. He has worked with BPM and related technologies for more than 20 years, first as a founding member at IMRS/Hyperion Software (now Hyperion Solutions) and later cofounded OutlookSoft where he was President and CEO.

    Craig is a frequent author on BPM topics and monthly columnist for the BeyeNETWORK. He has led several jointly produced webcasts with Business Finance Magazine including "Beyond the Hype: The Truth about BPM Vendors," the three-part vendor review entitled "BPM Xpo" and "BPM 101: Navigating the Treacherous Waters of Business Performance Management." He is a recipient of the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. BPM Partners is a vendor-independent professional services firm focused exclusively on BPM, providing expertise that helps companies successfully evaluate and deploy BPM systems. Craig can be reached at cschiff@bpmpartners.com.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Craig's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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Posted November 11, 2009 by fred.powers@dimins.com


Interesting and insightful 'look-back' at EIS systems, especially since I’ve been in the industry for some time myself, later founding a BI company in 1989.  I'm glad you made the point that BI/BPM systems need to drive business value. They simply can’t reside as a resource strictly for executives. The vendors that do BI/BPM successfully tend to take a holistic approach to solving the problem. Performance dashboards are the anticipated end-deliverable, but without the appropriate planning and implementation methodology 'performance dashboards' could end up suffering the same fate as EIS. A defined process coupled with the right technology for the needs exhibited by the end-user organization is really what drives business value and will ensure the success of any BI/BPM deployment. I wrote a similar article about this recently (http://tiny.cc/4Q1xR).

-Fred Powers, CEO, Dimensional Insight


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Posted November 10, 2009 by wayne.morris@mydials.com

Great post Craig - I also worked with EIS some time ago with a similar experience. There is another trend and that is from dashboards that primarily provide visual reporting to dashboards that are interactive performance management platforms.  I wrote a recent blog about this  http://tinyurl.com/yh9bya3  Wayne Morris myDIALS

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