Real-time business intelligence tools create a valuable, actionable way for companies to make swift decisions and pivot to get on a proper course for increased profitability. Enter the dashboard — Acumatica’s powerful information management tool that helps users simplify complex business data and track progress in ways that drive success. Acumatica ERP makes it easy and reliable to use their enterprise data dashboards.
What Is a Dashboard?
At its core, a dashboard is the visual representation of the health of a business or a business process. The tiles, also known as widgets, show different inputs, outputs, and quality gates throughout that process. Your business’s key metrics (also known as key process indicators, key performance indicators, or KPIs) become clear in real-time when the dashboard is configured well to fit your needs.
A quote from the movie The Hunt for Red October always comes to mind when I’m thinking of how dashboards can provide key data:
Kamarov to Yuri: “Give me a stopwatch and a map, and I’ll fly the Alps in a plane with no windows.”
Yuri to Kamarov: “If the map is accurate enough.”
As I’ve mentioned in a previous posting, I once had the privilege of working for a CEO who had his company’s dashboard so fine-tuned that daily he could bring up the numbers and discern the state of his business at that moment. By comparing numbers day over day and week over week, he could tell who he needed to call into his office to find out why the operation was getting slightly off course. And he could then make the necessary decisions to get back on track or adjust the course of the company accordingly. He was flying the Alps just by the readouts in front of him.
He had the altimeter, the fuel gauge, the yaw, the pitch, the wind direction, the GPS, and speed all being fed into his navigation system and calculated for him. All he had to do was compare that information with his map of where the company should be, and watch out ahead for obstacles.
That’s the power of a well-designed Acumatica ERP dashboard.
Why Use a Dashboard?
Monitoring of a process system
With effective information management tools, everyone from executives down to supervisors can monitor their business processes and get instant insights. Is today’s work actually being done today? Who is carrying which workloads? Where are the disconnects? Bottlenecks? Where do I have too much staff, or too little? Which customers are being underserved or overserved? Where are we losing sales or money? Which products are successful? Which are under-marketed? Over-marketed?
This comprehensive snapshot of the company’s performance can then drive better decision-making.
Early warning indicators of problems
In Acumatica, targets can be established to be used as early warning mechanisms. A three-tier stoplight approach can be used with Red, Yellow, and Green—or for the color-blind—Blue, Orange, and Green. These analytics for performance metrics serve to provide a warning when we are slightly off course and need to correct, rather than leaving the company unaware until a more serious crash is imminent. Trend charts and widgets can also serve this function of providing real-time data by showing day to day, week to week, or month over month how performance is improving or declining.
Business course correction
Once the course is corrected, orders can be handed down to essential personnel. Then, we can keep monitoring the situation so that it doesn’t slip back the wrong way or get oversteered in the opposite direction.
What else can dashboard functionality be used for?
Daily/weekly staff meetings
Communication in any organization is key. Many organizations have a daily stand up meeting or weekly staff meeting. Dashboards are great for displaying the department KPIs and other business metrics during such meetings, so that everyone knows where we stand. To borrow an analogy from football, it’s like glancing at the scoreboard during the huddle—the team knows if it's fourth and twenty, or first and ten. The difference drives the next play, and so on.
Additionally, a wiki can be added to the Acumatica dashboard to display departmental news or even a meeting agenda.
Like the daily stand up meetings, fast and accurate communication at the corporate level is vital. If you look at the number one complaint on employee-driven surveys, it's that the company does not communicate enough. By leveraging wikis and other types of articles, you can display a weekly newsletter through your dashboard. Since all employees have one, it's a handy way of getting that information available to them when they're able to read it.
The other handy part of a dashboard is that it can be used to get new users acclimated to a system by displaying a wiki article with the process flow. New users have a simplified UI while they are learning to navigate the system and adjust to the process flow of a new company or new role in the company. This helps accelerate learning, especially in high turnover roles.
Customizing the dashboard with widgets
Acumatica’s Widgets are all built on user queries called Generic Inquiries, or GIs for short. The GIs can be created from any data within Acumatica ERP, and CS3 has several easy-to-follow videos and articles showing how to create them. The widgets translate this query data into different types of visual indicators that make it simpler to get the data analytics you need.
All of the widgets are clickable and interactive. The titles and data points will display filtered lists of data taken from the generic inquiry—much like Excel will show different data by clicking in a pivot table cell. Also, hovering over data points can display more information. Widgets are an intuitive and convenient information management tool.
Acumatica has a set of standard widgets as well as some enhanced widgets. The widgets all use wizards to help you set them up. Once created, they can be dragged and dropped around Acumatica’s dashboard interface to fit the creator’s layout preferences. Consumers can then copy the original dashboard or modify it to make it their own, depending on the security settings. Additionally, parameters like @Me and @MyWorkgroup further help individualize dashboards while keeping the number of dashboards that need to be created and maintained in the system to a minimum.
Standard Widget List
- Data Table
- Score Card KPI
- Trend Card KPI
- Pivot Table (2019R2)
Enhanced Widget List
- Power BI Tile
- Wiki Page
- Embedded External Page
Establish Your Metrics before Setting Up Your Dashboard
To get a powerful Acumatica dashboard that provides solid data visualizations, you must know what you need and want to measure. Choose your metrics carefully. What KPIs will you use?
Remember, KPIs are individual performance or process metrics, or a combined set of metrics, that determine and define the outcome of a business process. The most effective KPIs are aligned or linked to strategic goals. If you’re starting from scratch, keep in mind that KPIs should be SMART — a handy acronym to help us remember:
Specific – aka Simple, Sensible, Significant
Measurable – aka Meaningful, Motivating
Achievable – aka Agree, Attainable
Repeatable – aka Relevant, Reasonable, Realistic
Targetable – aka Timely, Time bound, time-based, time-sensitive
For example, “increased sales” is a goal, but it’s not a SMART goal. It lacks key information to make it smart and is too vague to be measurable. SMART goals, by comparison, can be tracked, which means the data analytics provided by your Acumatica ERP dashboard gives you key business intelligence to base your decisions on.
Consider this example instead:
“The Sales Team will increase third and fourth quarter sales by 17% as compared to last year's third and fourth quarter sales numbers for all current product sectors as a part of our overall profitability improvement goal.”
That’s a SMART goal. It answers the specific 5 W’s (who is accountable, what needs to be accomplished, where is it located, which resources/limits are involved, and why is the goal important). The goal has a measurable and time-based target. All parties, CEO and Sales Director on down, can then agree upon it as being relevant, reasonable and achievable as it pertains to profitability and the marketplace. It is strategic because it pushes forward business growth and development, whether that is via a reduction goal like lower costs, less waste of decrease in customer dissatisfaction; or an incrementable increase like sales, productivity, or profitability.
For more on the subject of choosing metrics, check out this previous article on CS3.