Smart Dashboards: Bringing Insights in Sight

Draupadi’s Swayamvar: In the guise of a brahman, Arjuna was not expected to participate in the contest. He meticulously observed the show while most kshatriyas were struggling to achieve the arduous task. The task was to string the bow and shoot the eye of a fish tied to a rotating wheel hanging from the ceiling while looking only at its reflection in a pan of oil underneath. Arjuna made note of the steady pace of the wheel, the position of the fish, the size of oil vat, position of light source et al. 

When all the kshatriyas had tried their hand, a disappointed father, King Dhrupad invited the brahmans to participate. With his past successful record of shooting the eye of a bird on the tree and now equipped with careful data analysis (while waiting in audience), the very skilled Arjuna astonishingly accomplished the feat and the princess’ hand in marriage.

Question for you: Would the result have been the same if Bheem had participated instead? Would the result have been favourable if the pace of wheel was fluctuating, or the oil was boiling (not still)?

Such are the current VUCA times, in which our SCM managers are performing their duties. Skill sets and experience alone cannot assure a successful outcome. We ought to be vested with real time data and deep insights to make better, quick decisions and actions thereof.

Ocean of data, not a drop to drink

With the ever-higher volume, velocity and variability of data coming from a variety of sources we are truly inundated in raw data. The challenge remains how to make sense of this big data and be able to dive for pearls of insights. 

For instance, even a small logistics company has data on truck locations, speed, fuel efficiency, driver rating, truck idling, truck utilization, time at tolls, value of tolls in alternative routes, time since last service, payments due from shipper, pending indents, lost PoDs, pending bills submission, insurance renewal date, etc.

On one hand there continues to exist siloed ownership of data and on the other, there is little improvement in the data analysis skills.There are very junior (often offrole) executives, in respective functions, extracting data daily from main system (ERP), putting it together in prescribed MS Excel formats and then sending mass e-mails by mid-morning.

A delay or error in this reporting would lead to poor management decisions.

Further, there is an alarming risk here. Manual churning of data gives an opportunity to introduce ‘correction factors’ that the functional team may deem fit. As R.H. Coase, British economist, once said, “If you torture data long enough, it will confess to anything you’d like.”

This brings us to the bias one carries basis one’s experience and skills. If the report does not comply with the expected outcome, experienced managers tend to doubt the report first. And this is very normal. However, disregarding the report when it does not comply with your ‘gut feel’ (read bias) could lead to poor management decisions or no decision at all.

What are smart dashboards?

As discussed in SCM Spotlight of Aug’22 LI edition, to make Supply Chains fighting fit (agile & resilient) we need to enhance Visibility and reduce complexity. Smart dashboards help enhance visibility.

Smart Dashboards use advanced technology and data analytics. It extracts and synchronizes data from multiple channels/sources (like ERP, excel sheets, allied software’s, IoT et al). Through user friendly visualizations, one can see metrics and easy  drilldowns (cuts, filters) that was not possible earlier.

Device agnostic dashboards make the real-time reports relevant for all. The field person can see it on his mobile for quick updates, while a person at office sees it on a larger screen for detail analysis and study. With ONE source of information now, these reports help collaborate. With the interactive features, one can leave views on any report page and even notify/invite colleagues to comment as well.

Visualizations provide actionable insights that are proactive.

We are now equipped to see real-time status report, analyze trends/patterns and check performance against targets at the desired granularity on a click of the mouse.

How does it benefit your business?

I enumerate the benefits of Smart Dashboards as below:

1. Real time data analysis (refresh frequency as per business need)

2. Correct and unbiased analysis

3. Visualization in a way that supports quick assimilation

4. Track trends and benchmark internally/ externally

5. Standardizes the understanding of each KPI to all the stakeholders, explaining why it is important

6. Single view of the data- ONE truth: Same data is referred to by all functions

7. Drives collaboration

8. Drives accountability

9. Democratizing tactical decision making, which is aligned to larger business goals. Not all decisions need to be made by function heads now, as more delegation is possible with databased accountability.

10. Transparency in the reward and incentives programs

11. Enhanced employee engagement: Teams are in better control and not firefighting.

Business leaders are more often in a state of being proactive decision making, and less reactive.As it may seem to an uninitiated…it is NOT about the flashy dashboards; it is about our ability to focus on treating data as an asset and our ability to leverage the insights throughout the organization.

Caution on the path to implementation

When embarking on the journey to make dashboards, it is important to first understand what data and KPIs are driving the business. CTO should go out and meet people to understand how the data is being used currently. The objective is to design the right analytics that are enabling and driving accountability at the same time for business goals’ achievement.

A good dashboard is simple and visual, leading you to find outliers and help read trends. It should be flexible to represent the data in the way respective functions want to see it. The design teams should resist the urge to make it complex, adding lot more features, only because the technology allows for it.

Introduction of data analytics and smart dashboards would also entail a Change Management program to help larger organisation appreciate and adopt the benefits of the new technological tool.

This article by Shammi Dua, Vice-President, Kearney originally appeared in the SCM Spotlight segment for the September 2022 issue of Logistics Insider magazine. All views expressed in the article are his own and do not represent those of any entity he was, is or will be associated with.

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