Operational, tactical, strategic ... what kind of dashboard do you have?

Allan Wille -

April 7, 2011

I have a well-referenced book in my library at work, Wayne Eckerson's "Performance Dashboards." Although it is now about five years old – and aging, given how quickly the business intelligence industry is advancing – I continue to use it and discover new ideas.

If you've got his book, check out chapter 6. It classifies three types of performance dashboards: Operational, Tactical, and Strategic.

In a nutshell, Wayne defines Operational Dashboards as being focused on exception alerting, based on real-time or transactional data. It's up to the user or a script to then act upon this opportunity or issue. OK, I'm with him so far.

Tactical Dashboards display data that is not quite as real-time as operational dashboards, and are generally not evaluated against absolute conditions. Contextual information, and the ability to explore the data, tends to guide users to the decision process.

Strategic Dashboards, according to Wayne, track performance metrics against high-level objectives. As a result, these dashboards tend to summarize performance over the past month, quarter, or year. Strategic objectives are usually also the result of many underlying metrics, and require social analysis to digest properly.

At Klipfolio, we tend to use the terms operational and tactical interchangeably. If, instead of using the naming conventions, we simply arrange these dashboards on a time continuum - real-time, daily, and monthly - this aligns better with what's actually happening. (For the sake of definition, let's ignore how frequently the data gets refreshed, because after all, each of these dashboards can accept real-time data.)

The business dashboard is likely to be quite volatile, its data changing frequently throughout the day, but it can be fully trusted to present an accurate snapshot of what is happening right now. This is your "speedometer." It's also one of the most easily understood dashboards, applicable to a wide range of employees for various tasks. The logic for this type of a dashboard is simple. But don't mistake simple and easy for less value. Would you want to drive without your speedometer?

The daily dashboard settles down considerably. We're now looking at an aggregated, summarized, or averaged view of data. Because this presentation tends to smooth the outliers, we can start comparing it against historical values, benchmarks, and goals without having a panic attack every time the data refreshes. This would be your "average trip fuel consumption" metric. The daily dashboard allows you to make informed decisions. Because it's usually a collection of real-time data points over time, users of this dashboard have a little bit of depth to play with, and they can ask questions of the data.

The monthly dashboard is the most difficult one to influence. It's made up of many data points, rolled up into a key performance indicator, a reflection of many processes and initiatives. Although this type of dashboard or scorecard is most associated with executive management, it is tremendously valuable to communicate these KPIs to the entire organization, to make sure everyone's rowing in the same direction. Because of the voluminous data that feeds these dashboards, the requirement to ask questions of the data is of utmost importance. The analysis and commentary on these values is often as important as the metric itself.

Given the persistent nature of Klipfolio Dashboard, we tend to see more of the real-time and daily dashboards (or according to Wayne's definitions, the operational and tactical dashboards). And for that matter, we find that customers consider the terms real-time, operational and tactical analogous as well. Learn how Klipfolio turns your data into insight.

Wayne goes on to describe which dashboards tend to be the most popular, and which ones amass the most users. Five years ago, strategic dashboards captured the popularity vote (in the number of firms having deployed this type). However, with the growth of operational BI outpacing traditional BI, I wonder if it's still in top spot. Certainly there is no question about which dashboards capture the greatest audience ... you just need to follow the pyramid of employment to know that tactical and operational dashboards out-number strategic ones. Some of our customer deployments range in the tens of thousands.

No matter what you call them, performance dashboards are seeing incredible growth. And, as the accessibility, ease of use, self-service, and costs become more competitive, this trend is not likely to slow down.

What are your thoughts on dashboard definition and naming conventions? Let us know.