Smart Dashboard – The technical solution isn’t your only challenge

Posted on: February 4, 2015 by Ralf van Houtem

You have read blogs from Sven and Helene and you are now convinced that you need a “Smart Dashboard”? At Atos, we are too. We actually started this journey last year with a request from a business user and business point of view for something like a Smart Dashboard.

In this blog I will share the experiences and point of view of the internal IT function on this seemingly simple business request from a large international IT company.

Let’s focus on the business and functionalities first. Here are all the questions you would need to ask yourself to develop a “Smart Dashboard”, prior to think technical. Tackling them will be a key factor of success in the elaboration and implementation of such a concept in your organization.

Process brick by brick

From a functional point of view the requirements seem to be very clear and simple: a webpage with an overview of all business applications and side-by-side applications. As always, the devil is in the details!

  • Where can users access the dashboard: what is to be depicted in this dashboard and where should the dashboard itself be depicted (mobile application, intranet, social network, document management system)?
  • When can you use the smart dashboard: can they only access this while on a mobile or WiFi network? Or should they also be able to access it on a plane while being offline?
  • What will users find in the dashboard? Should it be tasks only (An expense report is waiting for your approval)? Or also informative messages (An expense report has been approved)? Should it be tasks and messages only from business applications or should it also contain tasks and messages from other employees / action trackers?
  • How do users interact with the dashboard: what should be the possible actions for each of the tasks and messages? Should there be an archive? Should they completely disappear after executing or reading the task or message?
  • Who should have access to which applications should be accessible to users? From a higher level functional perspective - decisions will have to be taken which applications should be integrated indeed. Are these only systems that are used by all users? Can it also be systems that are only for a specific group of users?

Eventually, the most important functional decisions you may have to take is on the structure of the dashboard. How can you prevent that the smart dashboard becomes a chaotic, unstructured inbox where users will not find back their items - thus reaching the exact opposite of what it is intending to achieve, aka find a solution to information overload.

To complexify things even further - there will also be some strong security requirements which will have a clear implication on the functional possibilities and (mostly) on the technical implementation. How do we deal with authentication and authorization? How do we safely store the data on the device and online? How do you make sure the user has no access to the task list and applications after he or she has left the company?

Find the business owners

If like me - you belong to the internal IT department, you have to identify who will answer these questions with you. There are many stakeholders involved (HR, Communication, Security, Finance, IT) in all these decisions and there are of course the application owners/business process owners of the respective applications integrated into the smart dashboard that will have their opinion and input on the prioritization and content.

Users tend to look at the IT department to be the orchestrator of all this. And maybe this being true - the actual decisions taken cannot be (only) by IT. Only with a strong partnership and collaboration between IT and the business owners, a common understanding of the objectives and sufficient management buy-in you can guarantee success.

Going technical

Let's say that the functional requirements and the governance around this is clear - the technical challenges will be the next major hurdle to take.

You will likely face a good number of applications to be integrated. Each of these systems will have their own specificities in terms of technical maturity, technologies used, location in the network, accessibility (internal network/internet) integration possibilities delivered by standard (out of the box), sign-on options, data models in the applications, workflow engines available… and this is only the start. You also want to guarantee to your users that if a task is executed from the mobile application, it will be synchronized into all other dashboards from the source systems to all the users’ dashboards, on any device. This requires some really challenging technological choices.

Also the security requirements stated before, will put some technical challenges on the table and on top of that - you have to take into account the fact that the app should be able to use Single-Sign-On between the dashboard and the different source application. Each source system will have its own authorization and authentication mechanism (if you're lucky - they are all connected to a harmonized authentication platform), complying at the same time with strong security requirements.

Technical partnering

Reading all the above – you might be desperate and thinking that this is never going to work. I think a lot of companies and as a result potential suppliers think the same way…

Looking at the complexity that I’ve laid out in the sections above and the complexity of your own company, you will probably see that there is not out-of-the-box solution available that can answer all these challenging requirements. At best - you will find two or three suppliers that can deliver part of the solution to your organization, but the success of such an implementation will still largely depend of the maturity of the governance around the IT processes and the maturity of the IT (infrastructure and application) landscape.

At Atos – this used to be no different. However, the past year we have already taken some major steps, mainly in the functional requirements definitions and organizational and governance approach. We are currently finalizing and orchestrating all this and defining the best execution and implementation strategy. The high level strategy and approach is clear – and given the major steps we have taken – I am convinced that we will successfully take the last steps as well! In some time, I will be able to share the experience on our journey to the “Smart Dashboard”.

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About Ralf van Houtem
Global Manager Digital Workplace
Ralf is application manager in the internal Global IT department, focusing on Mobility, Portal and User Interfaces. He has a broad interest and experience in IT topics, ranging from ERP implementations, Business Process Design, Application design and Communication Infrastructures. Ralf is also a proud member of the Atos Juniors Group, an international, cross-functional network of young talents participating in a dedicated curriculum and exciting projects that contribute to Atos' global business performance.

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