Get a grip of cloud suppliers with great dashboards

The massive increase in the use of cloud-based applications is having a corresponding effect on the number of IT suppliers an organisation has to deal with. And it’s not just IT – line of business is finding solutions from cloud-based vendors too. That of course, is nothing we didn’t already know.

But how do we keep track of all this increasingly diverse array of suppliers’ performance, service levels and KPIs? Most suppliers provide some level of reporting, but there is likely to be a chronic lack of uniformity across the whole ecosystem.

How can you expect a manager to log in to twenty separate dashboards then compare and make sense of all that information? Quite simply, you can’t – a different approach is required

The answer is to create in-house dashboards that are shaped by the needs of the business:

Getting hold of your data

The first step is to make sure the data you need is available. Most cloud supplier terms include an exit clause that guarantees the handover of all the client’s data when the contract is concluded. This is not enough. Make sure your contracts stipulate provision of data feed whenever you need it – not just on termination.

Six essentials for great dashboards

Then there are six characteristics that most great dashboards share:

  1. Reliable data
    This is blindingly obvious, but it is essential that data is reliable. Remember the three C's: Complete, Current and Correct.
    1. Complete: To get the best view of the performance, all relevant data should be available in one place. Incomplete data clouds the image, leading to poor decisions.
    2. Current: Data must be as up to date as possible and the temporal quality of the data must be made clear to the user. Generally speaking, if the data is more than a month old, it is less suitable for decision-making.
    3. Correct: The data must be accurate. It is the most difficult of the three C's. It requires a lot of knowledge and insight to ensure unambiguity.
  2. Each user has a personal dashboard
    If everyone sees the same generic reports, there are no guarantees that anyone will take action. Dashboards need to tell a user when they have to do something – they need to be personalised.
  3. Use “Lead indicators”
    Many contractual reports contain figures that are ‘lag indicators’ - in other words they tell you what the result is after the event. Fair enough, but in order to know where you are heading and take corrective action if the need arises, you need lead indicators to tell you how you are doing during the event or in process.
  4. Make exceptions visible
    A dashboard often contains multiple graphical elements. Make sure there are not so many different types that it is difficult to read. Graphs and charts should lead the eye to the irregularities. Strange peaks and troughs need to stand out, as do negative trends and performance falling outside agreed ranges.Reports should not be static, but provide filtering and drill-down capabilities to enable users to view the data from different angles, which allows them to make the kind of specific recommendations that enable meaningful improvement.
  1. Work on continuous improvement
    A properly configured dashboard significantly increases the opportunity to take improvement action – and making the most of this means putting in place a Continual Service Improvement (CSI) process. CSI actions can be identified in various areas such as process, organisation, tooling, people, contracts, and so on.Dashboards can be used to identify CSI actions, and whether a CSI action has had the desired effect.
  2. Start small and well
    It is possible to have perfect dashboards immediately. But start small and make sure dashboarding is an integral part of day-to-day work – but once under control, it makes sense to extend Service Management reporting to other areas within the IT landscape. Think of functional areas such as Application Portfolio Management, Project Portfolio Management, Risk Management, IT Finance and Security.Adding more data gradually will ensure the dashboards give a more complete and richer picture and are more valuable as a control tool for the entire organisation. Then you can start to direct IT. And that's the Holy Grail as far as dashboards are concerned.

Tags Business Intelligence, ITSM, Cloud Computing, Business Analytics, Business Strategy