Dashboards got their start as windows into business intelligence (BI) applications. But like the applications they supported, the dashboards were generally too specialized to be of interest to supply chain managers and executives tasked with ensuring operations were running smoothly. Of course, over time, specialty vendors have been adding dashboard applications to their enterprise suites.
But Ross Elliott, chief technology officer (CTO) of Accellos, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company that makes supply chain execution software including dashboard applications, says past dashboard solutions haven’t provided the capabilities supply chain managers need. “In the past, people attempted to use BI dashboards from the big BI vendors. Or they tried the dashboards offered by their warehouse management or supply chain vendors. What they typically found was the BI dashboards were too overwhelming, and the others were too narrow, focusing only on the data from those specific applications. Accellos set out to develop solutions that span a variety of applications, including other vendors’ solutions. The company got its start in 1993 as a BI and decision support vendor.
Accellos, which this week is announcing a new version of its Accellos One Pinpoint for the Microsoft Dynamics line. The new version includes a dozen apps for the supply chain including new dashboards for key performance indicators (KPI), EDI, warehouse management, small parcel shipping, appointment scheduling, route and load optimization, alerts and events, track and trace, and activity billing, and more. Accellos One Pinpoint is a unified suite for small and mid-size businesses that can be configured for the needs of specific industries and vertical markets and is delivered as a virtual “cloud” appliance.
In an online survey conducted this month by ec-bp.org, the overwhelming majority of respondents, or 86.3 percent, said supply chain management (SCM) solutions should have native dashboard user interfaces that unify supply chain metrics, data and information. Respondents were given the opportunity to expand on their views, and comments ranged from dashboards “saves time and makes you work smarter,” to “measuring KPI and tracking milestones are an important part of determining the health of a supply chain,” to the idea that dashboards reduce the need for integration into separate data warehouse or analytic platforms.”
Vendors offering supply chain solutions are adding dashboards to their suites. SAP, for example, provides dashboard capabilities in its SAP BusinessObjects Supply Chain Performance Management application. One customer, Coca-Cola North America, is now using the application in its North American region, according to a press release issued by ITC Infotech, a global IT services and solutions company, which worked with SAP consulting to help Coca-Cola implement the solution. The solution incorporates dashboards that display real-time, critical information and metrics about the company’s supply chain. In a prepared statement, Russ Rodal, metrics program manager at Coca-Cola, said the solution is helping it focus on metrics with little need for manual intervention, focus on metrics that help drive process consistency, and focus on metrics that are in line with industry standards. He added that because the application is integrated with the SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse which captures details about business transactions, “we can aggregate the data on the fly in the application and not be bound by a static data model. So when the business re-organizes, we change dashboards, not solution configuration."
Coco-Cola is now planning a global rollout of the application, according to the press release. The implementation of SAP BusinessObjects Supply Chain Performance Management was begun in July 2010 and provides performance scores on a real-time basis and users have the flexibility to create their own reports and dashboards based on their areas of interest and priority.
Despite the fact that SCM dashboards are deemed necessary by many, respondents of the ec-bp.org survey agreed that current solutions still need tweaking and advances. In fact, one respondent said that while dashboards are “key mechanisms to quickly consume valuable information,” most software packages still do not have them. The survey asked which capabilities are missing from most SCM dashboards, and nearly half (46 percent) said the dashboards are poorly integrated with underlying databases and systems. As one respondent put it, “dashboards are only as good as the data getting into them. Organizations must ensure that relevant data silos are captured into the process.” Thirty-eight percent said current dashboards do not allow for easy customization and integration, and 33 percent said they are not real time. Thirty-one percent said dashboards are poorly designed and the same amount said reporting functions were limited. One quarter said the alerting functions and business rules are not well developed. The respondents were allowed to pick as many answer as applicable.
Accellos’ CTO Elliott says he often hears supply chain managers asking for dashboards that provide high-level, easy-to-read views that provide executives strategic information and historical trending capabilities. “That way, the executive can compare last month to this month, or last year to this year, and then have drill down features for more detailed information.” In addition, supply chain managers are asking for tactical, or real-time views. “If the KPI indicating orders waiting to be shipped reaches a threshold, managers need to know that right away. So they want alerting functions and real-time information.”
The ec-bp.org survey reflects Elliott’s experience. A little more than half, or 55 percent, said dashboards should provide quick, high-level access to SCM performance for supply chain executives. Similarly, 57 percent said dashboards should leverage data and metrics culled from across the supply chain for a more holistic view of SCM performance.