Friday, April 13, 2007

Enterprise Visibility (Cheap)

A foundational element of good management, whether you call it business process management or not, is visibility. So much of our time is spent "in the weeds" - deep in the minutia, that we lose sight of the big picture. Keeping a constant eye on key metrics means first identifying and understanding what those key metrics are (and why they're important) and devising a means to constantly monitor them.

The challenge with this is that enterprise-class business intelligence systems tend be pricy and require the commitment of some already-strained IT resources. The absence of the time, money or simply the desire to implement such a system should not be an impediment, however. Use of a spreadsheet is sufficient. By creating a dashboard comprising a collection of pie charts that represent key performance indicators, taking a screen shot and publishing it on a web page using an "img src=" tag, you can provide process visibility to anyone interested via the web. Further, if you want to provide drill-down, the screen shot you use can easily be turned into an image map using simple HTML tags - you specify the upper left and lower right hand coordinates to define the clickable area of the map and the page or document to which clicking will direct users. By using an “href” tag to link the map coordinates to a project schedule, live spreadsheet or other source, users can drill down to far more detailed information. In addition, policy statements, project charters, contact lists and other process or project-related information can easily be made available. Concerned about who might be able to access the info? At the low end of security, there are many simple javascript applets that enable you to password-protect the dashboard page with no programming required. For a little more robust security, you can use a Flash page for log in info. If greater security is called for, you might have to enlist your IT department for a few minutes. Most of these scripts are available for free online.

If you want to splurge, for a modest sum you can buy Business Objects’ Crystal Xcelsius product and bring your presentations to life. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Crystal Xcelsius ties into a simple spreadsheet (or other data source) and allows you to quickly create interactive dashboards and render them as HTML pages, Flash pages or PDFs. It’s a very inexpensive way to deliver enterprise visibility into critical projects and processes. Don’t succumb to deer-in-the-headlights syndrome out of fear of the time or expense involved. Providing visibility is critical to maintaining support from senior management, gaining buy-in and literally keeping everyone on the same page, and here’s a very inexpensive way to provide it.

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