Field Report: Software Spectrum, Plano, Texas

January 6, 2006 will live long in the memory of 250 managers, directors and officers at Software Spectrum who on that date got their first look at the company's new dashboard.

January 6, 2006 will live long in the memory of 250 managers, directors and officers at Software Spectrum who on that date got their first look at the company's new dashboard. Led by Ray Chavez, Software Spectrum's Director of Business Process & Quality, the companywide journey begun in August 2005 involved intense debates about metrics and lots of product bake-offs and prototypes. Chavez is certain that the new dashboard will forever change how decision makers view business performance. "We've become a very data-intensive company, and I mean things are run on data," he says. "The sooner we can get data about our KPIs [key performance indicators], the sooner we can make decisions and act."

A subsidiary of Level 3 Communications and the world's largest Microsoft reseller, Software Spectrum provides business-to-business IT solutions and services. As with many growing companies, Software Spectrum found that its existing BI reporting and analysis infrastructure could neither keep up with mushrooming demand for integrated, high-quality information nor offer an easy, data-driven way of aligning business performance with strategic goals.

"Let's say I need a report on employee attrition," Chavez offers. "The logical thing to do would be to call up Human Resources. But with all the slices I want, it would take them days to come up with the information; they don't have the bandwidth to do that, and besides, they're not trained report writers. I could go to my reporting team in IT, but they're already overburdened with doing reports for our customers. Our goal with the dashboard was to enable people to simply click on an icon, look at the key indicators and drill down to the information they need." In this way, Chavez says, a senior executive or HR director could see immediately if the attrition rate exceeded the company goal and take action.

Software Spectrum chose Celequest Activity Suite to implement its dashboard and KPI strategy. "We wanted to walk before we ran," says Chavez of the company's decision not to build the capability with tools from traditional BI vendors, who offered "more than we needed at that particular time in our program." Intuitiveness and ease of use were decisive factors in their choice. "When we did the prototypes and showed them to our president and CEO, he said, 'It's got to be totally intuitive. I need speedometers; I need visualization that is at sixth-grade level,'" recalls Chavez. "Because we'd been working on this for months, things that were intuitive to us weren't to our nontechnical users. So, we were attracted to Celequest's ease of use."

Chavez and his team also determined that it was crucial to get users themselves involved in developing the metrics and preparing to use them. "You have to educate people as to why the metrics are not a threat to them. We went through a major global effort to train everyone about what the KPIs were all about." His team decided to start with four categories of metrics: people, business growth, financials and customer satisfaction. Each has a number of KPIs behind them, which were developed by executives and managers themselves and will continue to be their responsibility. "We're planning to enable the whole organization to look at the metrics, and measure, track and trend," Chavez says. "It will give people who are typically not able to look at metrics an awareness of our business performance that they never had before."

Information integration is going to be the toughest part going forward, according to Chavez. "We did a lot of work identifying where the data is and how we want it displayed, but it's complicated. HR is on Oracle and our financials are on Hyperion. In Europe, we have a totally different set of IT systems. We still have important data being stored and recorded in spreadsheets. That's just the way it is." The other struggle may be popularity. Chavez knows that every department will want to measure and track things important only to them, which could vastly increase both KPIs and dashboards. But there's no going back: at Software Spectrum, the performance management dashboard is now business-critical.