Friday, June 01, 2007

Dashboard Software: Finding More than Flash

I’ve been reading a lot about marketing performance metrics recently, which turns out to be a drier topic than I can easily tolerate—and I have a pretty high tolerance for dry. To give myself a bit of a break without moving too far afield, I decided to research marketing dashboard software. At least that let me look at some pretty pictures.

Sadly, the same problem that afflicts discussions of marketing metrics affects most dashboard systems: what they give you is a flood of disconnected information without any way to make sense of it. Most of the dashboard vendors stress their physical display capabilities—how many different types of displays they provide, how much data they can squeeze onto a page, how easily you can build things—and leave the rest to you. What this comes down to is: they let you make bigger, prettier mistakes faster.

Two exceptions did crop up that seem worth mentioning.

- ActiveStrategy builds scorecards that are specifically designed to link top-level business strategy with lower-level activities and results. They refer to this as “cascading” scorecards and that seems a good term to illustrate the relationship. I suppose this isn’t truly unique; I recollect the people at SAS showing me a similar hierarchy of key performance indicators, and there are probably other products with a cascading approach. Part of this may be the difference between dashboards and scorecards. Still, if nothing else, ActiveStrategy is doing a particularly good job of showing how to connect data with results.

- VisualAcuity doesn’t have the same strategic focus, but it does seek more effective alternatives to the normal dashboard display techniques. As their Web site puts it, “The ability to assimilate and make judgments about information quickly and efficiently is key to the definition of a dashboard. Dashboards aren’t intended for detailed analysis, or even great precision, but rather summary information, abbreviated in form and content, enough to highlight exceptions and initiate action.” VisualAcuity dashboards rely on many small displays and time-series graphs to do this.

Incidentally, if you’re just looking for something different, FYIVisual uses graphics rather than text or charts in a way that is probably very efficient at uncovering patterns and exceptions. It definitely doesn’t address the strategy issue and may or may not be more effective than more common display techniques. But at least it’s something new to look at.


Stephen Few said...


I appreciate your frustration with dashboard vendors that emphasize flash, but are short on effective displays of meaningful content. Unfortunately, however, the wisdom that led you to this opinion was missing when you gave FYI Visual a positive nod. Yes, it's different, but no, it doesn't work. This is not a casual opinion. As a leader in the field of data visualization, my perspective is based on a great deal of evidence.

Let the clear reason that led you to critique most dashboard software as superficial extend to products like FYI Visual as well. The fact that it looks different from anything you've seen should not be mistaken for effectiveness.

Take care,

Stephen Few

David Raab said...

For more of Stephen's opinions, see

Jeremy said...

Dashboard software is an incredibly interesting field especially as more and more social and nonprofit sector organizations begin to utilize these powerful tools.

We recommend that every potential buyer should sample and demo a few alternatives to fully understand each systems capabilities and to build internal momentum behind implementing and using a new method of communication, collaboration, and management.

One option you might try is ClearPoint Strategy.

ClearPoint Strategy is a web-based balanced scorecard, dashboard, and performance management solution. ClearPoint has a highly effective US based support team that is eager to help you get started. We also offer a number of example templates to browse and can add your strategic plan, charts, or even add other users while you get comfortable using the software.

Visit our balanced scorecard offering at

Best of luck!