Operational Dashboards

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Business leaders are driven towards adopting various methods to manage their businesses more efficiently. Technological innovations have increasingly been embraced by executives who wish to gain a competitive advantage. One of the technological innovations that merge innovation and efficiency is the operational dashboard. The business operational dashboard borrows its name from the vehicle “dashboard” because it is commonly used to show immediate measurements of core business functions. Just as the vehicle dashboard shows measurable data on the core components that make the engine operate effectively, the business dashboard is also designed to show employees instantaneous data on the key components of the business.

Dashboards are most effective when they are specifically tailored for use in each business. According to Serb (2013) “The key to an effective dashboard is a limited number of meaningful measurements.” The particular sets of measure on the dashboard are designed to provide a quick view of the performance indicators established by the operation of the business. For example, an operational dashboard in a manufacturing plant would have a very different set of indicators than a hospital. As a result, dashboards are often designed for an industry as a general software application and then molded during the implementation phase to work specifically for the businesses that purchased the software. Large businesses may have the luxury of an information technology department that is professionally trained in programming and they can design and implement the dashboard. It was found during the research for this paper that a local hospital did in fact use operational dashboards that were designed, implemented, and managed by the in house healthcare informatics analysts.

At the beginning of the research on operational dashboards, it was very apparent that executive level staff could benefit from an operational dashboard that provided a quick and efficient view of performance indicators that were happening in real time across several departments. For example, a CEO at a Fortune 500 company could use an operational dashboard to access information from sales, marketing, finance, and human resources extremely quickly by logging on to his or her computer and clicking the dashboard icon. This made perfect sense for higher level management, but the truth is that operational dashboards are much more complex.

What the analysis for this paper has provided in the multi level and multi functioning of operational dashboards throughout an organization. This is because different information is important at different levels of the organization. In the hospital setting, it was found that executives need to have immediate access to information that falls under finance or quality assurance. The CEO and CFO of the hospital needed to have access to financial information such as bed day utilization, days cash on hand, and accounts receivable turnover. It is also important for executives in the hospital setting to have access to quality assurance data such as the number of grievances turned in the previous day, the outcome of exit questionnaires, and post employment interviews. This kind of dashboard allows healthcare executives to focus on finances and the quality of service offered very efficiently. This may be a source of competitive advantage if used to manage progressive change accordingly.

The same dashboard would have been nearly useless for the nursing manager in their role within the hospital. While the quality assurance measures may be of importance, the financial indicators would be ineffective to put on nursing’s dashboard. They simply don’t need to know how much cash in on hand or how the finance department is doing in collecting on accounts receivable. As such, nursing departments had specialized dashboards with information key to the efficient operation within that area. For example, a tour through the hospital showed a large flat-screen monitor at each nursing station that was a part of the nursing operational dashboard. It showed the location of each patient, what meds were prescribed and how often to administer them, the staff schedule, and access to policies.

In speaking with the staff at the hospital in regards to the dashboard, the results were conclusive – the operational dashboards were appreciated and used daily by staff at each level and regardless of position. Although used for various reasons contingent upon employment status, the operational dashboards seemed to help the hospital operate more efficiently. The cost of this efficiency was found in the additional staff requirements to write, design, implement and manage the operational dashboards. This is a luxury for the overall business; however, this is a significant undertaking by an information systems department.

The hospital added 2 staff members when it made the decision to implement dashboards throughout the hospital. The main purpose was because the original software writing and design required a high level of proficiency and stretched the department too thin at the time. In addition, like any other technological innovation, there are issues with troubleshooting and help desk support for staff that are new to the dashboard. The last notable issue is the personal training cost associated with implementing a new dashboard. It’s a dream that the software can be purchased or written in house and simply thrown out on the intranet inside a business and the staff will know what to do with it. Training staff during the implementation phase was obviously a real expense for the hospital as it had to be overstaffed to accommodate the nurses that were in the training room. The hospital mitigated that expense to some degree by designing an on the job training strategy after the first set of “champions” were trained. Essentially, management staff was selected to complete the training session conducted by information services on the new dashboard. They used the new dashboard on the job for several weeks and became novices at operating the dashboards. Then, they were required to act as “field trainers” for staff during on the job training sessions.

In closing, operational dashboards are a very effective way for a business to become more efficient. Dashboards should be tailored to meet the specific needs of the industry and also the business to be the most effective. In the healthcare setting, the key indicators held on the dashboard vary within the level of staff assignment; however, the important indicators are based around quality and finance. It is an advantage to have access to personnel that can write and implement such a software application. Large businesses have an advantage over small businesses in that regard. Lastly, the cost of training must be considered as a real cost of implementing a successful dashboard.

Reference

Serb, P. (2013). Effective dashboards: What to measure and how to show it. Retrieved from http://www.hhnmag.com/