Dashboard Confessional

Digital dashboard,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 June 2006, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Digital_dashboard&oldid=56635922.

Why Regulatory Compliance Remains Important,” by Stephen DeAngelis, Enterprise Resilience Management Blog, 13 June 2006, http://enterpriseresilienceblog.typepad.com/enterprise_resilience_man/2006/06/why_regulatory_.html.

Globalization and Resilient Enterprises,” by Stephen DeAngelis, Enterprise Resilience Management Blog, 14 June 2006, http://enterpriseresilienceblog.typepad.com/enterprise_resilience_man/2006/06/globalization_a.html.

A post from Stephen F. DeAngelis yesterday brought back something from my days at USD:

Rasmussen is going to lead a teleconference discussion on “Monitoring Risk with Enterprise Risk Dashboards.” While I agree that dashboards are a great idea, Rasmussen doesn’t go far enough in fostering their use. Resilient Enterprises are going to have to monitor all critical business processes using dashboards, not just compliance. That’s why I’m such a great proponent of service-oriented architectures and business process layers that can be used to embed rule sets that drive business processes right in a company’s corporate DNA. In fact, that’s a subject I’m addressing today at the DC Area Service-Oriented Architecture Users Group.

As someone who has written a dashboard

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I have some comments on this…


A dashboard is

a business management tool used by managers to get a “bird’s eye view” of business health. It is a simple, yet powerful device to visually ascertain the status of a business enterprise. Used to monitor the status of key business indicators, Digital Dashboards use visual, at-a-glance displays of critical data pulled in from disparate business systems to provide warnings, action notices, next steps, and summaries of business conditions.

Digital Dashboards can be laid out to track the flows inherent in the business processes that they monitor. Graphically, users can see the high-level processes and then drill down into low level data. This level of detail is often buried deep within the corporate enterprise and otherwise unavailable to the senior executives.

While my dashboard (part of my graduate computer science thesis, A Computer Model of National Behavior) gave an easy-to-understand visualization of the health of nations, and a corporate one would give a similar representation of company health, the concepts are the same.

The big benefit of dashboards is they let you quickly understand quantified data. The huge drawback is they let you pretend that all quantified data is important, and all important data is quantified.

You can see this same division in a later post by DeAngelis:

What [IBM CEO Samuel] Palmisano calls “the globally integrated enterprise,” is what I have been calling the “Resilient Enterprise.” Whether you call it a globally integrated or a resilient enterprise, isn’t as important as the fact that what we are describing is a momentous shift in the global business paradigm — it’s not just a name change. Palmisano continues:

The key to this paradigm is the ability to “pull apart” business processes and “put them back together” as needs dictate. Of course, this kind of talk excites me because Enterra Solutions is in the business of enabling globally integrated corporations and turning them into Resilient Enterprises. Tom Barnett and I spend a great deal of our time addressing multinational corporations about this subject. We talk about the need for the next generation Enterprise Architecture, which pulls apart business processes and turns them into automated rules sets that can be recombined as required in the corporate DNA. Because it utilizes a service-oriented architecture and a standards-based business process layer, the next generation Enterprise Architecture enables integration across departments and, as Palmisano notes, across the globe..

Dashboards are a great help in building modularity — on the measurable side. It helps one combine core competencies and rule-sets together, rapidly respond to problems, and even measure employee performance. But one must always remember that dashboards are a partial picture of the world. Failure to do might led to a less-resilient enterprise, tearing apart what works because one believes an alternative would be better.

A similar partial picture, in a military context, was the satellite and computer imagery that allowed General Tommy Franks to see individual soldiers during the early stages of the Iraq War. History will tell if he did enough to remain skeptical of the power of dashboards.

5 thoughts on “Dashboard Confessional”

  1. Dan,

    The Iraq War example you cite, must have been very, very early in the war. A Army Division has thousands of invidual soldiers and we employed more than one during the initial phases of combat ops. Tracking each individual dude via satellite imagery is nearly impossible and downrigt useless, especially for an HQ unit like CENTCOM where we are also worried about what the bad guys are doing and concentrating our assets to collect on the enemy not on our own guys. I would be pissed off if they were tracking me individually via satellite while I was in Iraq. Imagine a screen displaying tens of thousands individual soldiers from different countries, aircraft, tanks, and ships. Soon enough the whole screen is covered with useless info. Even if you could see it, what are you going to do? Moving troops in real life is not as easy as moving troops in the Total War series of Games (Shogun, Medieval, Rome).

    That being said, you can display units down to a certain level. The problem is, how current is what I am seeing on the screen? The other problem is that it can give the commander a false sense of security and awareness concerning the progress of his units and their advance on the battlefield. I heard people say “the screen says they are there, so it must me right”, when in reality a unit had already moved from that position and we found out from voice comms with them. I had people in higher HQ argue with me about where units where located while I was actually watching components of that unit with my own naked eyes. I wish I had a videophone with me at that time. A commander can also rely too much on his/her “dashboard” to assess the fitness and location of his/her units: “the screen says they are OK, so they must be OK, right?”. Leadership by walking around is still crucial to get the right picture. A dashboard can also become a micromanagement tool. What happens when the dashboard “goes down” (as it invariably happens) and your units are left waiting from your orders. Chances are, if they US, they ain't going to wait for you, they are going to move and let you catch up later, when the systems guys fix your dashboard. My motto is “Centralized command, decrentralized execution”.

  2. Sonny,

    I'm excited, thrilled, and humbled to see this confirmation from a man like you, who is serving and sacrificing in the field. Your words are great, and the following phrases especially jumped out at me

    “The problem is, how current is what I am seeing on the screen? The other problem is that it can give the commander a false sense of security and awareness concerning the progress of his units and their advance on the battlefield.

    A commander can also rely too much on his/her “dashboard” to assess the fitness and location of his/her units: “the screen says they are OK, so they must be OK, right?”.

    One seems especially imprtant, given the pro-Dashboard, pro-Resilience views of DeAngelis:

    “t picture. A dashboard can also become a micromanagement tool. What happens when the dashboard “goes down” (as it invariably happens) and your units are left waiting from your orders.”

    One demands more elaboration:

    “My motto is “Centralized command, decentralize execution”.”

    A statement like that just can't be leftt hanging!

  3. Dan,

    Thanks for the kind words. tdaxp is always an estimulating experience. I am not in the field right now…but I am begging my boss to let me go downrange…aparently I am needed more here in the US.

    Okay. “Centralized control, decentralized execution”. A basic doctrinal tenet of the USAF, that can – to some degree – be applied to other non-military enterprises, particularly those that deal with crisis situations like terrorist attacks, natural disasters, or reconstruction in a chaotic, hostile, or non-favorable environment. Think 9/11, Katrina, nation-building and peacekeeping efforts, etc. After all, war is a form of crisis and some of the same operating principles apply to “non-war” crises. Just like in war, every crisis has a friction “simple-becomes-difficult” element to it. Every crisis is filled with uncertainty; every action in a crisis takes places in what I call, borrowing from Clausewitz, “the fog of crisis”. Crises often have a fluidity that's similar to the combat situation in which events merge merge with each other and “things happen in a blur”. You can see when having a centralized command entity – I am not taking about a single individual – might be desirable in such situations. In a bening, non-crisis environment, you can get away with decentralized command; in a crisis not so much. The command entity has to be competent, of course. Leadership is key. Witness the Katrina debacle where it seemed like nobody (with enough compentence and leadership) was in charge. I believe that having a well-led and competent central command entity in that situation would have prevented, or at least mitigated, some of the problems we faced in dealing with the situation. Noticed that I said central command entity, not individual. You'll still have a leader in charge of this entity (I am not a proponent of “leaderlessness”), but the command entity should be resilient enough to substitute the leader and continue operations if the leader is taken out of the situation temporarily (e.g. sickness) or permanently (e.g. death). Some might argue that “command entity” or “centralized command” sound like fascist terms that a totalitarian regime might use, but 1) crises (war, natural disasters, etc) are unforgiving situations in which long, unguided, debates can cost lives and valuable resources and in which a focused and coordinated response is key to survive and function 2) a competent command entity can actually increase fexibility of the enterprise if it provides the right amount of decision and execution authority to the units executing missions in the field. In a relatively benign and non-time-critical environment like the arts or academia centralization is undiserable, in my opinion. I see the concept of centralized command, decentralized execution as an organizing principle and not a “form of government”. An organizing principle devised to survive, function, and thrive in chaotic situations. What the command entity provides is an overall plan, direction, and coordination among the different executing units of entities to focus efforts and avoid duplication of efforts. This topic is very rich and might actually require a separate post, but these are my preliminary thoughts on the subject. Keep in mind that most of my experience is outside the field of academia and in time-critical, non-cooperative environments where decisions have to flow quickly in order to function effectively. I am all for decentralization…except when the s|-|it hits the prop.

  4. Sonny,

    “In a relatively benign and non-time-critical environment like the arts or academia centralization is undesirable, in my opinion. I see the concept of centralized command, decentralized execution as an organizing principle and not a “form of government”. An organizing principle devised to survive, function, and thrive in chaotic situations.”

    Perhaps instead of benign, “non kinetic” might be better. Certainly the entire world and everything in it is ultimately lethal for any sort of organism. The world in essentially Darwinian, and organizationally lethal competition is everywhere.

    Thus saying that centralized command is an organizing principle and not a form of government is perhaps splitting hairs, because any executing principle of organizational of a sort of government for that organization.

    But by saying that centralized command is important in a quick, kinetic (that is, male [1] [2]) environment makes a lot of sense. South Dakota and Massachusetts cultural laws shouldn't be under the command, over even the same “organizing principle,” as the elected national government. But if the environment is kinetic — if the nation is at war — then local cultural organizing principles are ignored in favor of some social structure that helps the war effort. [3]

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/07/14/every-man-a-panzer-every-woman-a-soldat.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/12/01/university-of-pennsylvania-evolutionary-psychologist-visits.html
    [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosie_the_Riveter

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