Dashboards - we love them, but why do they love us?

Subject: Agenda item for our away day on strategy and scenarios

To: CEO and senior exec team

We should congratulate ourselves on the progress made, however as your CDO, I am now going to make a case that we measure too much, have too much data and that as a team, we should reflect on the next thing that data can support us in!

We have bought into “Data is the new oil,” and whilst we know the analogy breaks down below the veneer, the message is beautifully simple and has empowered the change to a data and digital business. The global pandemic has accelerated our adoption and transformation, and we are in a better place than March 2020. However, sticking with oil, we know that the extraction process has downsides, including carbon release, messy, and difficulty locating economic wells.   Amongst data’s most significant downsides are legal liabilities, noise and the wrong data. 

I can easily hide data’s downsides through dashboards.  Our dashboards are based on trickle-down KPI and objectives from our strategic plan.  We hand out SMART objectives, but such objectives fundamentally assume that we are and continue to do the right thing.  We gather data and post-analysis present it as trending graphs or red, amber, green dashboards, aiming for everything to be going in the right direction or green.  Green only means we have no negative variance between our plan and the actual. Organisationally we are incentivised to achieve green at any unknown cost or consequence.  Trending analysis can always be generated through the selection of data to fit the story. 

Right now, we are using data to measure, analyse and inform. We have better control of variance across our entire operations and ecosystem than at any previous point in our history. We increasingly have to depend on dashboards to manage the complicated and complex, remain informed, and determine where our energies should be focussed.  Without a doubt, this should remain and continue to be improved, but we are already on a diminishing return with the data we collect due to the increase in noise over signal and should aim to cull than add. 

As an agenda item; should we introduce the colour BLUE into our reporting, trends, and dashboards to reduce reporting and data?  The traditional traffic lights remain the same; blue is not replacing any of them; it can become the one that allows us to know we are doing the right thing and not just doing the wrong thing that is in the plan in the most efficient and effective way (can be green or red).

As a team, we have to feed our sense of enquiry, and our existing data gathering, analysis, and reporting do not value the complexity we are faced with. More data does not solve complexity. Data has allowed us to evolve from finance data as the most critical decision-making source to become more sensitive.  Whilst we have far more data, it is still narrow, and we should consider how we prepare for the next evolution, which will not be more of the same data.  Following on from customer data and the start in ESG, the next data set we are being mandated to report on is Human Capital.  

Human capital reporting opens up our ability to sense what our employees and ecosystem are sensing, seeing and implying; helping us to determine, using technologies such as sentiment analysis, if we are doing the right thing. Where are issues that are not on the dashboard are occurring? What, as yet, unidentified tensions and conflicts are created by our current trickle-down objective/ incentive system? However, as you can imagine, big brother, privacy, and trust are foundational issues we need to discuss front up before this next evolutionary step hits us.  This next phase of our data journey means we will find it harder to hide in the selection of data for trends and dashboards or just seek the right trend or green. This is more data, but different data and it will fill a gap in our knowledge,  meaning we will be better informed about complex decisions. 

I would like to present for 15 minutes on this topic and host a 45-minute debate with your approval.

Your CDO