In many respects, "dashboard" is simply a new name for the Executive Information Systems (EISs) first developed in the 1980s. These implementations remained exclusively in the offices of executives and never numbered more than a few, so it is unlikely that you've ever actually seen one. I sat through a few vendor demos back in the 1980s but never did see an actual system in use. The usual purpose of an EIS was to display a handful of key financial measures through a simple interface that "even an executive could understand." Though limited in scope, the goal was visionary and worthwhile, but ahead of its time. Back then, before data warehousing and business intelligence had evolved the necessary data-handling methodologies and given shape to the necessary technologies, the vision simply wasn't practical; it couldn't be realized because the required information was incomplete, unreliable, and spread across too many disparate sources. Thus, in the same decade that the EIS arose, it also went into hibernation, preserving its vision in the shadows until the time was ripe… That is, until now.
During the 1990s, data warehousing, online analytical processing (OLAP), and eventually business intelligence worked as partners to tame the wild onslaught of the information age. The emphasis during those years was on collecting, correcting, integrating, storing, and accessing information in ways that sought to guarantee its accuracy, timeliness, and usefulness. From the early days of data warehousing on into the early years of this new millennium, the effort has largely focused on the technologies, and to a lesser degree the methodologies, needed to make information available and useful. The direct beneficiaries so far have mostly been folks who are highly proficient in the use of computers and able to use the available tools to navigate through large, often complex databases.
What also emerged in the early 1990s, but didn't become popular until late in that decade, was a new approach to management that involved the identification and use of key performance indicators (KPIs), introduced by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton as the Balanced Scorecard. The advances in data warehousing and its technology partners set the stage for this new interest in management through the use of metricsand not just financial metricsthat still dominates the business landscape today. Business Performance Management (BPM), as it is now commonly known, has become an international preoccupation. The infrastructure built by data warehousing and the like, as well as the interest of BPM in metrics that can be monitored easily, together tilled and fertilized the soil in which the hibernating seeds of EIS-type displays were once again able to grow.
What really caused heads to turn in recognition of dashboards as much more than your everyday fledgling technology, however, was the Enron scandal in 2001. The aftermath put new pressure on corporations to demonstrate their ability to closely monitor what was going on in their midst and to thereby assure shareholders that they were in control. This increased accountability, combined with the concurrent economic downturn, sent Chief Information Officers (CIOs) on a mission to find anything that could help managers at all levels more easily and efficiently keep an eye on performance. Most BI vendors that hadn't already started offering a dashboard product soon began to do so, sometimes by cleverly changing the name of an existing product, sometimes by quickly purchasing the rights to an existing product from a smaller vendor, and sometimes by cobbling together pieces of products that already existed. The marketplace soon offered a vast array of dashboard software from which to choose.
Clarifying the Vision
Variations in Dashboard Uses and Data
Thirteen Common Mistakes in Dashboard Design
Tapping into the Power of Visual Perception
Eloquence Through Simplicity
Effective Dashboard Display Media
Designing Dashboards for Usability
Putting It All Together