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Tips from UCB on Building an Interactive Dashboard

  • By Nilly Essaides
  • Published: 2/26/2016
smashdashFP&A always struggles to present meaningful information out of the vast amount of available key performance indicators (KPIs) in as little space as possible and in the most user-friendly way, so it can help drive better management decisions. Marie Theunissen, FP&A expert and project management director at Belgium-based pharmaceutical, UCB, has taken on the challenge in creating an online, mobile-accessible dashboard that allows management and business leaders to slice and dice and visualize key performance indicators and how they affect—and could impact—business performance.
 “The challenge for FP&A was how to provide the right information at the right time so management can make the right decisions,” Theunissen said. The objective was to make sure that when the executive team meets, they all have the same information and are able to identify risk-mitigating factors and allocate resources appropriately.  

Key tips on building a dashboard

1. Get executive sponsorship. “If you don’t have the sponsorship you get nowhere,” Theunissen said. The dashboard must be a management priority. At UCB, the sponsor was a direct report to the CFO. “The person came from the business, so he understood it very well.”

2. Generate early excitement. According to Theunissen, it’s good to get senior management on board through a combination of some early wins and an innovative, and visionary design using real figures to get direct insights and attention.

3. Make it an iterative process. A dashboard is not a static product. It needs to be continuously adapted through a closed-loop process to keep up with the changing business and business environment. Theunissen recommended that companies “use rapid prototyping, including real-life, look-and-feel dashboards and hands-on testing.”

4. Go beyond the obvious. UCB’s dashboard not only allows managers to compare actuals to budgets and forecasts but also to industry benchmarks and competitors’ performance. Most of the time, the external comparison is very important. That’s how KPIs help drive strategy.

5. Assemble a cross-functional team. To make sure the dashboard answers the right questions and allows business and management to make better decisions, involve them in the content-creation process. Ask them what they need to know.

6. Get the right resources. While there has to be a true project manager, the effort is not a one-person job. Theunissen brought functional experts in as needed for a total of 15 people at any given time. “You need to have the KPI owners at the table,” she said. “The project team is the facilitator, designer or coordinator, but not accountable of the KPIs. They are.”

7. Build a strong IT/finance partnership. IT was a critical partner in the process. “You need to have a technology expert to build the solution. Plus, they’re the ones who know where to find the data.” In the case of global companies like UCB, the data may reside in different reporting platforms and needs to be pulled together.

8. Use a phased approach. Every new KPI and feature was first tested in PPT and Excel before it was added to the web-enabled platform.

9. Be patient. Finally, “You don’t create a best-in-class dashboard overnight,” said Theunissen. She advised FP&A leaders to set realistic expectations, follow a phased, agile and roll-out approach.

A longer version of this article will appear in an upcoming edition of AFP Exchange.

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