Dashboards present more than just information

01 September 2009

Today's software dashboards are not your typical user interface, portal or report generated by the IT department. Three areas of dashboard evolution will impact your day-to-day manufacturing life sooner rather than later. Here's what you need to know, says Infor's Christina McKeon.

Dashboards are evolving into a unique display of personalised information that allows users to take action
Dashboards are evolving into a unique display of personalised information that allows users to take action

For many, software dashboards are nothing new. They present information in an easy-to-read format, often with charts and eye-pleasing colours. However, the current generation of dashboards is stagnant, presenting information solely based on the last time the surrounding systems were queried. Things are changing, and dashboards are evolving into a unique display of personalised information that allows users to take action.

Today's dashboards are not your typical user interface, portal or report generated by IT. They are a combination-and more. Three areas of dashboard evolution will impact your day-to-day life sooner rather than later. Here's what you need to know.

1. Role-based homepages and personalised information
Does your job depend on knowing last quarter's revenue? While it might be interesting, this bit of information may not have anything to do with your role. Most jobs are all about relevancy and answering the question, "What information will help make my day as productive as possible?"

Access to the information for your areas of responsibility keep you in the know, helping you understand at any point in time what is happening with your team, activities on the floor, production schedules, etc. For example, Kai, a production planner for a discrete manufacturer, has specific information he needs to do his job. This includes late purchase receipts, number of job orders overdue, as well as how many and which machines are down or overloaded. Personalisation means this information is delivered directly to him when logged into the system.

For many, though, access to such role-specific data is still accomplished through e-mails, phone calls or running across the floor to collect the information. This takes time and does not allow managers and executives to focus on strategic planning or deal with issues that arise. It is critical to be able to act on the hot items, which typically involves logging into multiple systems and talking to multiple people to get the whole story.

The latest generation of dashboards can simplify the chaos through a single interface, allowing one to click through alerts and act upon them right away. Information is available right when it is needed, providing several benefits:
• Understand what plan versus actual production is and make the appropriate adjustments before the plan is missed
• Know if, and how much, scrap was left in the production process and determine where the scrap is produced
• Know how well the plant's resources are being utilised; adjust staff as needed to meet varying levels of demand
• Gain access to real-time information such as on-time completion, production rates, inventory levels, etc.
All of this makes sure you are planning accurately as well, adjusting to changes in the business environment.

2. Access to real-time information delivers one version of the truth
A common problem many of us face is the need to obtain and present dynamic information. We use the word "dynamic" because the information you want is constantly changing, yet many still continue to go to IT to pull information which is then dumped into Microsoft Excel or Access, then analysed and presented to you. This can take days or even weeks to complete, and by the time the answer arrives, the question has changed or evolved.

Access to real-time information pulled from across the enterprise means you no longer have to wait. Based on your role within the company, the information is extracted from various systems, compiled and presented to you. No more dealing with the chaos that spreadsheets bring or worrying about the accuracy of your data.

The effects of this are far-reaching. The amount of time spent gathering and analysing data can now be spent focused on strategic initiatives, enhancing productivity and reducing cycle times.

3. True collaboration with colleagues
To really impact efficiency across the company you have to collaborate with your stakeholders. In the production planner example, access to the stakeholders that contribute to an efficient production process, such as a production supervisor, warehouse manager or sales manager, are essential to ensuring production runs smoothly. To do so, everyone must be working from and making decisions based on the same information.

For example, if requests directly linked to production have not been approved, the product planner is notified through the personalised, real-time dashboard. Now, working together with the purchasing manager they can ensure the right materials are ordered and production continues as required.

In another example, Kai must develop a plan based on a sales forecast. Typically this requires him to wait for each region to provide their forecasts which, in turn, depends on each salesperson funnelling information to the region heads. This process is time-consuming and based on one person providing information to another who in turn provides a recompiled report to another. Similar to the childhood game of telephone, what you start with isn't what always comes out in the end.

Through collaborative tools such as next generation dashboards, one can immediately see the sales forecast and know how to make adjustments to the production schedule, including supporting activities such as number of shifts, overtime, and maintenance to machines to increase uptime. All of this can be done ahead of time because you can see the sales plan and how it interacts with each stakeholder.

Next time you fire up the computer in the morning, look at the information that is presented to you and determine if it is all relevant to your job, delivers real-time information from across the enterprise and helps you collaborate with colleagues. Does it answer the question, what information do I need to make my day efficient and productive? Dashboards are changing to be that personalised.

Christina McKeon is director of product marketing, Performance Management, at Infor, where she is responsible for driving Infor's global performance management strategy. McKeon focuses on working with users, managers and executives within organisations to understand market drivers for performance management. She has more than 17 years of experience including working for manufacturers of power management devices and pulp and paper products. Infor PM 10 for manufacturing provides software solutions for planning, budgeting, forecasting, financial consolidation, strategy management, and reporting and analysis.

- Edited by Renee Robbins, senior editor
Control Engineering News Desk

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