A company without reports is like a social media group without topics for gossip. Reports for a long time have been the lifeline for many corporate managers to hang their hat on. The computer rooms of the erstwhile mainframe computers era used to look like mini printing presses, with different reports fondly referred to as “the 2-inch thick report”, “the 10-inch master report” and so on. A manager’s importance in the organization was directly proportional to the number of reports that he or she was entitled to receive.
Enter the age of interactive computing. ‘Information at your finger tips’, ‘Reports at the touch of a button’ and similar slogans egged the senior executives forward to the point where they quickly hired secretaries to click on the computer programs that would spew out reports for them. The fact that the reports, in whatever shape or form, remained largely unread was a moot point, lost in the ‘bigger picture’.
Reports soon gave way to Dashboards. ‘I want everything in one place’; ‘I want to see one version of the truth’; ‘I want all relevant information presented on one screen’; ‘I want a quick snapshot of what is going on in my region’ – these are some of the popular ‘justifications’ for wanting to have a Dashboard where information is required to be presented as though the audience were a preschooler – colorful pies, multi-directional arrows, cascading stairs and other visual attractions.
Dashboards in any organization start with the objective of providing complex information in a simple fashion. The VP, Sales wants to know how the company is trending in sales, which products are selling well, which regions are doing badly, and so on. As soon as this information is presented, the same VP wants to see this year’s numbers compared with data during the same period last year, immediately expanding the scope and complexity of the dashboard. In jumps the VP, Finance who wants the cost of sales presented alongside on the same dashboard. This trend of being ‘all things to all men’ continues till the dashboard becomes just an entry point for literally hundreds of, you got it, good old reports.
So, what goes round comes around. While the presentation of data in fanciful formats, also known as dashboards, is the center of focus for many organizations, the all-important aspect of what actions need to be taken based on the information available remains an elusive after-thought.