Implementing Interactive Dashboards

Dr Rupert Booth
Well-designed dashboards provide user-friendly access to business intelligence and are an excellent way to gain insight into a programme's operations and performance.

Recent advances in business intelligence software are transforming dashboard capabilities, creating a more interactive and intuitive set of tools.

Of course, most construction programme managers will already be familiar with traditional dashboards — the summary of project information (e.g. cost, schedule) into a condensed form, with weekly or monthly reporting cycles. Larger programmes can use an Excel workbook with multiple sheets for specific projects or parameters (e.g. safety, risk). However, even at this basic level, production of the dashboard may require significant administrative effort, if the data has to be handcrafted and cannot be obtained automatically from the management systems.

An interactive dashboard allows users to drill down into whatever data interests them and to navigate to parameters of interest.

The next stage of development is interactive dashboards. Here, automation of data transfer becomes essential, when the volume of data is unwieldy, or when no single format is suitable for a diverse readership requiring differing levels of detail.

An interactive dashboard allows users to drill down into whatever data interests them and to navigate to parameters of interest. It is also helpful to move from a purely numerical display of data, to using graphics to visualise the data and its trends.

Creating an interactive dashboard

To create an interactive dashboard, there are three inter-dependent steps:

1. Establish the information requirements of the various decision-makers. Senior managers will typically want a summary, with highlights of significant variances or potential threats.

2. Examine the capability of the programme information systems, both in terms of the data held, and its volume, variety, velocity and veracity. Usually the data exists within the organisation, though perhaps not in an accessible form nor of sufficient integrity. The data will probably exist in very different forms. Internal data is likely to be in structured form, though it may be held on a variety of systems, with different structures. Where external data is required to support decisions, e.g. on inflation indices, this may well be in unstructured form, possibly requiring text analysis to identify the data of interest.

3. Data visualisation - visual cues, such as adding colour (red/amber/green traffic lights) will enhance the dashboard’s usefulness. Graphs may be used to show trends over time and the correlation between related parameters, e.g. Cost Performance Index and Schedule Performance Index. All this can be achieved in Excel, but a data visualisation tool (e.g. Tableau), takes visualisation further, allowing navigation between display panels, rapid drill-down into areas of interest, and selection of subsets to make like-for-like comparison.

Creating an Interactive Dashboard

Faithful+Gould has considerable experience in implementing interactive dashboards, as part of our role as an integrated project and programme management service provider. We bring an expertise grounded in the practicalities of programme management, ensuring a focus on user requirements rather than the use of technology for its own sake.

...we have formed long-term partnerships with leading systems integration companies to develop the most useful and cost-effective systems for our clients.

However, selection of the most appropriate technology, and adapting it to suit the purpose, is important, so we have formed long-term partnerships with leading systems integration companies to develop the most useful and cost-effective systems for our clients.

We combine our experience of using dashboards as part of our programme management service, reinforced by our track-record in the management of information systems development, and supported by prominent technology providers.