So You Think You Want a Dashboard?
I truly hope not. That is, I truly hope not if you think it won’t require significant effort on your part.
In case you’ve missed this concept over the past decade, a business intelligence dashboard is a data visualization tool that displays the current status of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for an enterprise. Dashboards consolidate and arrange numbers, metrics and sometimes performance scorecards on a single screen.
What’s the Problem?
The problem is dashboards are surprisingly difficult to create. It’s not because we don’t have the technology. No – we can build them with our eyes closed. Dashboards are difficult to create for the following six reasons, five of which have everything to do with you.
- You don’t know what to measure in your enterprise.
- The point of a dashboard is to present up-to-date insight on meaningful business success metrics. The instant you see the display, you should know exactly what action to take to move the gauge in the desired direction. If you can’t act, your dashboard design has failed.
- Every role in your organization needs its own metrics.
- In any social group (e.g. business), individuals occupy and perform roles. Roles are made up of organized practices; a unit or set of organized reciprocal behaviors or acts.
- Since each role is different, you’ll need to measure different things – and have different dashboards.
- You are measuring the wrong thing.
- Measuring quotas and results provides you with less insight than you think. Instead, try measuring the actions you have pre-determined SHOULD produce those results.
- Your systems don’t – or can’t – capture those actions.
- Recognition and remuneration are not tied to taking the right activities – nor to keeping the data current.
- If your team members aren’t measured on taking actions and updating the data, you have nothing to measure BUT results after the fact. You won’t know what correction to put in.
- Thinking and planning are hard work, and you don’t want to do hard work.
- Even I find it challenging to sit and really focus in these days of distraction. But that’s what it takes to do good dashboard design. You can’t avoid it by hiring a consultant. They will just hound you until you sit down and answer their questions to draw out your goals.
Excellence Requires Effort!
A few years ago I was working on a project for a major US bank. The bank’s team got very excited when they heard that they could have a “dashboard” – a single view of multiple key performance metrics in graphical form. When I asked what they intended to measure – and what decisions and actions they needed to make based on these measures – the responded with “Well, we don’t know. Can’t you just give us the industry standard graphs?”
Well, uh, no.
Do you want to be “industry standard” or do you want excellence?
If you are willing to do some hard thinking, align your recognition practices, and confront your innate energy-conserving laziness, a dashboard might help your business. The tool you select to display your metrics is the least important and final decision in the process. But the endeavor, if done well, could transform your company’s future.
If you’d like to learn more, or schedule a dashboard inquiry session, we’re happy to help. The same questions that we use for custom reporting apply to dashboards.
The passage of time is mighty sneaky. I realized November 2016 was the 20th anniversary of my first career job. Desperate to work at a software company, especially after reading Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, and having just received a diploma in Computer Systems Management, I was hired as a tech support rep at Seagate Software in Vancouver. The product we supported? None other than Crystal Reports.
It’s unusual, these days, to have a single software application buoy one’s entire career. That’s a testament to the value, utility, and quality of that program. It’s also further evidence that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. In realistic terms of day-to-day practice 10,000 hours is about 10 years. And now I’m at 20 years.
So what is this thing called a career? Merriam-Webster’s simple definition is:
A job or profession that someone does for a very long time.
I’d say that’s how most of us think of the word “career”. And I almost dumped my career due to that line of thinking.
About five years ago, I started getting very bored with what I was doing in my career, this thing I’d been doing for a very long time. Don’t get me wrong, though. I was very proud of the work that I’d done to help my customers. I was, and am, grateful for the lasting friendships I’ve forged with customers and colleagues around the world, and all the unique experiences we’ve created both inside and outside the work environment. It’s just that I couldn’t see myself doing only that for another 20-30 years. Besides, there are limits to what one person can produce and to how long I can sit on my arse in front of a computer. And I’d reached those limits.
Education Keeps You Passionate
Something that has kept me from getting bored is engaging in education. I especially love learning alternative, cutting-edge ideas on how to live a better life. So this 20-year anniversary coincides with a 5-year anniversary of learning a new, yet very fundamental, approach to achieving satisfaction in many areas of life. It’s called Transactional Competence, and it’s found at Influence Ecology. Without it, I doubt I’d be celebrating the big 2-0.
A More Constructive Definition of “Career”
Here’s how Influence Ecology defines “career”: it’s the help one is known for in specific groups or ecologies – one’s identity in the marketplace. It’s an unavoidable condition of life all functioning adults must deal with. It’s also very distinct from two other unavoidable conditions, ones that are usually collapsed with career: Money, and Work.
The Value of Specialization
Discovering that I could transact to be known for some kind of specialized help allowed me to expand my thinking and acting about how I wanted to be known. Consequently, I was also able to earn more money.
What’s so special about specialization? Well, everything. When you want your home’s toilet fixed, you want someone with loads of experience who can quickly and accurately identify and solve the problem. You want a residential plumber. You don’t look for a general contractor.
Five years ago I truly believed I was as specialized as I could get. I was known as the Crystal Reports Goddess. That started out as a catchy thing to say, but then a former boyfriend registered the URL as a surprise gift. It stuck. I really was one of a handful of go-to-folks for Crystal Reports. And I really am great at designing and building amazing database reports. Sometimes what I come up with reminds me of what Charlie Parker said about playing music.
You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
Yes, I probably sound arrogant – but from what I’ve learned in my studies about Transactional Personalities, arrogance is both an asset AND a liability. It’s not a surprise I was frustrated by the constraints of being an employee, that I get bored easily, or that I have enjoyed the thrill of parachuting into the back-end systems of hundreds of organizations. A consultant is expected to navigate many different database systems, and quickly identify database structure, bad design, dirty data, and possible solutions – within hours of arriving. Not to mention ferreting out who needs what data, and in what format. All of this is simply puzzle-solving, and for me, that’s pure fun.
So clearly I was a specialist. And now I was being challenged to specialize even further? You can read the story of how I arrived at my new hyper-specialization in this post – but the short version is that we build custom reports and dashboards for QuickBooks – ones that QuickBooks actually can’t do. We use a third party tool to work our magic.
Making that leap to super-specialization produces often unexpected benefits. The first is that it becomes incredibly easy to articulate what you do: We do one thing. And in our case QuickBooks is well-known enough that people instantly grasp what we do. They will even say “Oh – I know someone who could use your help.” They also tend to recall what we do long after we first meet, simply because we’re the only ones doing it.
Tune Out the Naysayers
The marketplace vacillates between encouraging generalists and specialists. I definitely receive some dissent about what we’re doing. “Why limit yourself that way? Why don’t you also work with Sage or Microsoft Dynamics?” I appreciate that these folks would like our help. But we won’t – because of the other benefits our level of focus affords:
- We only have to learn one system. It’s easy to install, easy to teach, and easy to maintain.
- It’s a system that doesn’t accommodate many customizations. This means we are dealing with the same system with every customer. That helps maximize our efficiency. Even when they use it slightly differently – or even incorrectly – we are so familiar with it we can identify the differences very quickly.
- Our own systems are less costly to support. We need just three applications to do what we do.
- We can work remotely and deliver remotely. No centralized systems required.
- We don’t need to sell our solution. We just need to make the right people aware of it. When they come to us, they already know about the problem.
I think I can now bring these ideas full circle – back to career. Applying what I’ve learned with Influence Ecology has, without a doubt, enhanced my career, as well as my enjoyment of it. It would have been a tremendous waste to turn my back on 16 years of specialized knowledge, experience, and good reputation just because I was bored.
But I’m one of the fortunate ones who had focused enough to have a career foundation on which to build. I know plenty of lovely, ethical, hard-working people who are all over the map when it comes to career (and subsequently, money). I fear Millennials, if what the media says about them is true, jumping from job to job dissatisfied if not given promotions, raises, or sufficient responsibility, will suffer from misguided, incorrect thinking about career, work, and money. There is another dimension they may need to learn and practice, and that’s Transactional Competence.
I’m grateful for the meaningful work I’ve been able to contribute to the success of my customers. I’m grateful for being treated fairly and well in the many environments I’ve worked. And most of all I’m grateful for the fortuitous introduction to the curriculum at Influence Ecology. Looking forward to the next 20 years!
Matarozzi Pelsinger (MatPel), a high-end custom home builder in the San Francisco Bay Area, employs more than 50 employees and hundreds of subcontractors to build five to eight homes each year for the most exacting of customers.
Here’s one example of their genius
The perilous transition to QuickBooks
MatPel recently transitioned from Viewpoint, a construction industry accounting and project management system, to QuickBooks. They hired an acting CFO to ensure a smooth transition, but the implementation was challenging as the team bumped up against the limitations of QuickBooks.
MatPel Builders had a difficult challenge when creating customer invoices with QuickBooks because contractor bill rates vary from job to job. A worker with a bill rate of $95/hour on one project may be charged out at $105/hour on another.
QuickBooks only allows a single bill rate for each employee or subcontractor.
Because of this limitation, MatPel was manually creating invoices each month, resulting in errors and a lengthy, burdensome process for the accounting department.
Limitations with real-world consequences
Invoices were being issued late, negatively impacting cash flow, delaying access to hundreds of thousands of dollars each month. The errors such as incorrect amounts, duplicate line items or missed/skipped line items were embarrassing!
Not only was MatPel missing out on revenue, their image and relationship with their clients was suffering. Their brand image was plummeting.
Here’s how we stopped the bleeding
The need was clear – MatPel needed to automate their invoicing.
Datisfy’s reporting experts reviewed MatPel’s invoices, invoicing process and QuickBooks file and then developed an Excel spreadsheet to house all of the job-specific billing rates.
Crystal Reports was then used to integrate the information from the spreadsheet with the data in QQube for QuickBooks to generate a custom invoice for any project – at any time.
Now, after working with Datisfy:
- Invoices are built to include only billable items, so no charge is ever missed.
- Custom Invoices are generated quickly and accurately, which means MatPel receives payment on six-figure invoices an average of ten days earlier.
- Project Managers can run the custom invoicing themselves, providing real-time data back to the field, and freeing up the accounting department to work on other important tasks and projects.
MatPel is happy with their Custom Invoicing
“We got our invoices out in record time! 90% complete on the fourth of the month, and 100% complete by the sixth. That means we get paid much sooner.
THANK YOU for your help with all of this! A complete game-changer for us!”
Jenny Rios, General Manager
Matarozzi Pelsinger Builders
For some, there’s a love-hate relationship with QuickBooks.
People love QuickBooks because it’s relatively simple, and lots of people are familiar with it.
People hate QuickBooks when they need to see their financial data in a custom format. The truth is, as many soon learn, businesses can’t always function efficiently with the standard layout.
With QuickBooks you’re forced to export to Excel and then copy and paste and recalculate summaries and reformat and … well, you can see that’s an arduous and dreadful process.
Here are the side effects of running manual processes like this:
- Professional Reputation – when your reports are incorrect or look crappy
- Stress – who has the energy to futz around with Excel like that?
- Wasting your valuable time and career expertise
Maybe QuickBooks should come with a warning label.
I have a confession to make
Until 2015, I had avoided financial reporting for almost ALL of my career as a custom reports specialist. It seemed boring to me. Dead boring. (No offense to CPAs, controllers, and CFOs in the audience.) It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
When I first attempted custom reports for QuickBooks, 4 years ago, the main requests were for Sales and Commission Reports. It took another year before someone asked for a custom P&L (also known as an Income Statement – but at the time, I still didn’t know that!).
Then it dawned on me, I needed to do a crash course in financial reporting – because a good report developer needs to understand the meaning and purpose behind every element displayed on a report.
Coincidentally, and extremely fortuitously, the next assignment in a business program I was taking was to complete an online course called Financial Intelligence. (Actually – we’ve made that course available for you at a reduced rate. Find out more here.)
The lights went on for me. I could now define financial jargon and acronyms like EBITDA.
I could also appreciate the reasons a business owner might like to see expenses for Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization displayed separately from regular operating expenses.
It gives a different perspective on Net Income. A more realistic perspective.
I quickly realized QuickBooks alone wouldn’t cut it
Luckily, the solution wasn’t out of sight.
Adding QQube® by Clearify is like adding jet fuel to QuickBooks.
When you combine QQube with expert report designers using tools like Crystal Reports, you’ve got rocket fuel – and no need to upgrade QuickBooks to a more sophisticated system. Why? Because we can program the existing data to appear just about any way you need it.
Here are just some of the custom reports solutions we’ve provided:
- Custom Cost Of Goods Sold percentages – for any account, and placed anywhere on the page
- Rolling 12 months of P&L results
- P&L with Budgets AND Forecasts (sure can’t do that in QuickBooks!)
- Inventory + Sales History – in the same view
- Construction/Job Cost Report with Gross Margin $ and % with drill-down to every line item that makes up that total – including Journal Entries
- Consolidated Financials for any number of QuickBooks company files
Custom Reports for QuickBooks – the way YOU want them
Exporting to Excel to get what you need makes me cry for you. You’re better than that.
You should at least talk to us to find out if relief is available – and determine what that relief is worth.
- Client overview
Cochner Garvey Capital Partners, Inc. (CGCPI) is a Wichita-based private equity firm with an investment history of over 50 years, focusing its investment on middle market companies. CGCPI holds nine separate entities, each with its own QuickBooks company file.
CGCPI recently moved to QuickBooks Enterprise from Sage and FRX Reports and discovered a showstopper limitation.
Within QuickBooks, it’s impossible to get consolidated financials from more than one company file. To make matters worse, QuickBooks couldn’t be customized to provide financials for a partial owner entity.
CGCPI’s situation was even more complex because the account groupings needed to display in a different order and with different labels than in their chart of accounts.
QuickBooks just couldn’t cut it
With QuickBooks alone, the only way to consolidate financial reports for multiple company files is to export each P & L and Balance Sheet to a spreadsheet, manually cobble together the pieces and create conditional calculations.
This would have to be done every month, a massive waste of time, with a process rife with potential for error – and fraud.
How we implemented Consolidated Financials reporting
QQube for QuickBooks handles the issue of consolidation very simply: all QuickBooks company files loaded into the QQube data warehouse are available for reporting.
Once CGCPI provided their report layout sample, along with the custom account groupings, Datisfy used Crystal Reports to build the formulas and structure that result in an accurate, single-click consolidated income statement and balance sheet – including budgets. With the QQube Multiple Company Add-On, any number of company files can be accommodated.
And it’s future-proof
If and when CGCPI invests in new entities, only minor edits will be required to include these new entities in the reports. This solution saves the team at CGCPI at least two days of effort every month, and enhances the reputation of the Director of Financial Reporting when she delivers the financials with such velocity, reliability and accuracy, month after month.
CGCPI was ecstatic
The Datisfy team was very successful in building the custom reports that we now use to consolidate several wholly-owned subsidiaries, one controlling interest, and a joint-venture with their respective parent companies. They were a very quick study once we finalized our requirements.
The reports are now in production and working as expected.
Datisfy’s team members were always patient, very professional, and quite pleasant to work with. I highly recommend Datisfy and their solution.
Director of Financial Reporting