6 Ways to Get the Most Out Of Business Dashboards

Business dashboards are all the rage in companies around the world. Some companies use them solely to help senior management with decision making while others use them company wide. Many businesses still use manual dashboards created using spreadsheet programs but the trend now is to automate the process. Some business leaders see dashboards as simply charts while others see them as key decision making tools.

There is no denying that many businesses now use dashboards but, while many can see a direct correlation with business performance, others can’t see the benefit. The reason for this; it all comes down to how they are used.

The following are six ways to ensure you get the most out of your business dashboards.

1.    Expand their Use

Many business managers make the mistake of using dashboards for just one purpose. For example, for one department, one process, or only during meetings. This is a very narrow view. To get the most benefit, cascade the use of dashboards across the organization. Every business unit should have a dashboard to keep track of their key performance metrics.

2.    Make them real-time

A good dashboard should be up-to-date by the second. The impact of any business process should be immediately visible. This way, problems can be fixed as soon as they occur and not one week later. For example, a sales dashboard should be able to show sales as they trickle in. A line graph or simple graphic can effectively achieve this; if a daily trend is noticed where sales are slackening, sales managers can quickly convene a meeting with sales staff to find out why activity has dropped and get to the root of the problem before things get out of hand.

There should also be alerts whenever an important event happens. This could be a positive or negative event. For example, once a milestone is met, an alert should go out to all staff congratulating them for hitting the milestone. The vice versa is true where a milestone is missed.

3.    Make Them Interactive & Customizable

The process many companies follow to create their dashboards goes something like this. The team leader or senior person in a department will request the analytics team to prepare a dashboard. After some initial consultation, it will be solely up to the analytics techies to come with what they think suits the department/unit best. The problem with this is that the analytics guys won’t use the dashboard and are not on the business side of things. So, when all decisions are left to them, the often come up with dashboards that have pre-determined metrics and a static layout.

A good dashboard should be customizable and interactive. For example, someone on the team may want to see filter the data in a different way and get different insights. This should be possible. Each user should be able to adjust the dashboard to meet their unique needs.

4.    Include Goals & Reference Points

Dashboards should allow people to always keep their eyes on the prize. Without a reference point, the business will be like a rudderless ship. Benchmarks will be different in every unit of the business. For marketing, a reference point could be a targeted number of new customers/users. For accounting, the goal could be a 10 percent reduction in fixed overheads and so forth. Including goals on the dashboard truly maximize the value of the dashboard.

5.    Automate, Automate, Automate!

It’s really unfortunate that many businesses are still using manual spreadsheet dashboards. This includes leading Fortune 500 companies. A lot of manual work is involved, which results in employees spending too much time doing tasks that aren’t core to the business. There is the additional danger that manual dashboards are rarely current and when management demands they be current, a human resource has to be fully committed to the task. There are many business dashboard solutions. In fact many of the leading CRM, accounting, project management and marketing solutions have beautiful dashboards that do all the heavy lifting for you. If security is an issue, you can always have a custom solution that operates within your closed network designed by a software firm.

6.    Make them Accessible via Different Technologies

Gone are the days when dashboards where designed with only desktop in mind. To get the most out of your dashboards, ensure they are accessible via smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop and even television. This way, anyone with an urgent need to view the data can do so on the fly.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that dashboards have the power to positively impact how an organization makes decisions. Implemented well, dashboards help an organization make smart decisions. At the end of the day, a significant part of smart decision making is having accurate information on a timely basis. And, business success is the result of a series of smart decisions.

5 Must Have Social Media & Productivity Chrome Extensions

Over the past year I’ve really worked at giving a variety of web browsers a fair google-chrome-logo shake at becoming my go to browser for every day use.  I’ve used the major players such as IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and even gave RockMelt a spin (see here for my review of that platform).  While I have found myself predominately using Chrome for a variety of reasons such as speed, performance, UI and quite frankly I love the extension platform.  I’m not alone as usage of Chrome has climbed past 20% market share.

With my increased usage, I’ve come across a variety of social media themed extensions that I have tried out, and the following 5 are the ones I find the most useful and worthy of my screen real estate. 

HootSuite Hootlet – Obviously more useful if you are using HootSuite, but useful nonetheless, the Hootlet extension allows you to quickly and easily share web links to your social media channels.  If you are using HootSuite, it’s especially great as the links use their web shortener which provide you analytics so you have access to your sharing data.

WebRank SEO – I love this extension as it gives me quick access to website info such as Pagerank, Alexa, as well as pages indexed by engine and backlinks.  It’s a great way to get a snapshot of your sites and where they are, as well as competing sites.

LinkedIn For Chrome – LinkedIn can easily be forgotten when it comes to social channels and sharing content, but this extension helps keep it front and center and easy to share to ensure you’re not missing out on this audience.

Xmarks & Lastpass – I group these together since Lastpass actually acquired Xmarks last year.  Both invaluable productivity tools as Xmarks allows you to keep your bookmarks in sync across multiple browsers and computers, while Lastpass gives you secure cloud storage of your passwords and frequently filled in form info.

Awesome Screenshot – What a cool little tool!  Makes it quick and easy to grab screenshots and annotate them as needed, then send off or save.  Another great productivity tool built right in.

What are some of your favorite Chrome Extensions?

Hootsuite vs Tweetdeck: I’m Going Owl The Way

For quite some time Tweetdeck was my preferred choice when it came to social0000001504 media management software.  I’ve typically chosen software based solutions over web based ones for speed and performance when it comes to high touch computing.  And for awhile Tweetdeck was meeting my needs, but I just grew increasingly more frustrated with performance issues with the Adobe Air platform.  Constant software hangs, and slow downs just finally got to me and I decided it was time to take another look at Hootsuite.

I’m glad I did as I’ve really enjoyed the user experience with Hootsuite.  I’m actually finding myself preferring the web based experience.  It certainly doesn’t suffer from the slow downs I experienced with Tweetdeck.

So here is my short list of things so far that have me loving Hootsuite vs Tweetdeck:

  1. Tabs – Love the tabs.  Makes it dead simple from a UI perspective to organize multiple clients.
  2. Short Link & Monitoring – Love the ow.ly integration and how I can quickly get click stream information on what I share.  Combined with the Hootlet bookmarklet, it’s a great system.
  3. Web Based – Actually faster performance then Tweetdeck’s desktop application.  Also really like the fact that I can login anywhere and have access to my setup as is.
  4. Premium Upgrades – Moving to Hootsuite was not only a win for me personally, but also professionally as I will definitely consider their Pro and Enterprise level offerings for my team.  It’s great to have the flexibility to grow into something like that and the additional features around collaboration.

What’s your preferred solution?

3 Must Have Free Cloud Software Services

I’ve found myself breaking free of hard drives and flash drives as more and moreBusiness on a laptop cloud based storage and software options have become available.  For those not in the know, cloud software/services basically refers to storing or working in online environments where your data is stored “in the cloud” and not on your machine or external hard drives.

Many old schoolers still scoff at the security implications, of not having your data stored locally, but the fact is with the growth of this industry and the security that has followed, I would guess it’s just as likely that some masked gunman could could physically steal your goods as much as someone stealing it online.  As long as you take the necessary steps through these services to protect and backup your data, you’re going to be just fine.

That being said, there are 3 distinct services that I find invaluable that I use daily that are fantastic and all offer robust, free versions (in addition to paid versions with a few more bells and whistles).  You owe it to yourself to check out these winners.

  1. Dropbox – I’ve written about Dropbox before, but I can’t get enough of singing their praises.  Just an awesome, easy to use interface that makes having access to my most important files so quick and easy from any computer or any mobile device.  No matter where I am, or what I have access to, I have what I need, when I need it.  2 GB free, and an extra 250MB for every friend you invite that signs up.
  2. Xmarks – What a relief it is to have all my bookmarks cloud based.  Whenever I set up a new computer to use, I simply install Xmarks and I can sync my bookmarks as they were on any other machine.  In addition, if I’m remote on an unfamiliar machine, I can simply login on their website and access my bookmarks there as well.  Very useful when you need access to the places you frequent often regardless of where or what machine you are on.
  3. Lastpass – These folks actually purchased Xmarks, and offer a terrific password management offering.  With so many different username/passwords across the web, it gets crazy trying to remember everything, and when you buy a new computer, it’s invaluable to be able to simply sync with your Lastpass account to ensure your new machine is ready to rock with all your usernames/passwords at your disposal.

These are the services that I’ve found most valuable.  Would love to hear from you on any additional cloud based services you’ve found useful.

Social Media Book Package Giveaway!

As a thank you to those that visit and contribute to my blog, I’ve wanted to do some sort of giveawaygiveaway7 for awhile, but wanted it to be somewhat relevant to what I do and write about.  My blog certainly doesn’t generate crazy amounts of traffic or revenue, so I couldn’t exactly get too crazy, but I think I’ve come up with something pretty cool.

So what’s the prize package you ask?  To one lucky reader I will be giving away the following social media book package:

These are all books I have read and enjoyed and think you will too.  Yes, I must disclose they are “used”, but they are all in new condition as I pretty much read them very quickly and they’ve just been sitting in my office since then.  I figured I might as well let a lucky reader enjoy them.

BONUS!!  In addition to one copy of all the books above, I’ll throw in one copy of Tweetadder ($55 value) to the winner if they have tweeted/re-tweeted this post during the contest!

Overall that’s about a $150 prize package.  Not too shabby for a personal blog giveaway eh? 

So what do you have to do?  Pretty simple.  Just leave a comment on this blog post with one of your favorite social media websites or blogs that you frequent.  I figure why not get some great content in the process!  Be sure to leave some sort of contact information so if chosen you can be contacted.  Preferably a twitter username (so I can follow you if I’m not already), personal blog link or something that you are comfortable with.

Winner will be chosen at random on Friday, September 10th and will be contacted immediately at which point I’ll ship out to you at my expense.

Good luck to everyone and much thanks for all your continued support.