HMIs: Software Dashboards Present More than Just Information

Role-based homepages, dynamic information, and more are trends.

By Renee Robbins July 23, 2009

By Christina McKeon, Infor for Control Engineering


Example dashboard: A production planner can drill down into the data and act upon alerts, knowing all the information presented is specific to his role and in real-time. Source: Infor

For many, software dashboards are nothing new. These human machine interface (HMI) screens present information in an easy-to-read format, often with charts and eye-pleasing colors. However, the current generation of dashboards is stagnant; they present information solely based on the last time the surrounding systems were queried. Things are changing and dashboards are evolving into a unique display of personalized information that allows specific users to take action. Today’s dashboards are not your typical user interface, portal or report generated by IT. They are a combination, plus some. In this article, I will take a look at three areas of dashboard evolution that will impact your day-to-day life.


1. A move toward role-based homepages and personalized information

Does your job depend on knowing last quarter’s revenue? While it might be interesting, this bit of information may not have anything to do with your role. It is all about relevancy and answering the question, what information will help make my day as productive as possible?

Access to the information for your areas of responsibility keep you in the know, helping you understand at any point in time what is happening with your team, activities on the floor, production schedules, etc. For example, Kai, a production planner for a discrete manufacturer, has specific information he needs to do his job. This includes late purchase receipts, number of job orders overdue, as well as how many and which machines are down or overloaded. Personalization means this information is delivered directly to him when logged into the system.

For many, though, this is still accomplished through emails, phone calls or running across the floor to collect the information. This takes time and does not allow managers and executives to focus on strategic planning or deal with issues that arise. It is critical to be able to act on the hot items, which typically involves logging into multiple systems and talking to multiple people to get the whole story. The latest generation of dashboards can simplify the chaos through a single interface, allowing one to click through alerts and act upon them right away, speeding the process. Information is available right when it is needed and provides several benefits.
Understand what plan versus actual production is and make the appropriate adjustments before the plan is missed
Know if, and how much, scrap was left in the production process and determine where the scrap is produced
Know how well the plant’s resources are being utilized; adjust staff as needed to meet varying levels of demand
Provides access to real-time information such as on-time completion, production rates, inventory levels, etc.
All of this makes sure you are planning accurately as well, adjusting to changes in the business environment.


2. Access to real-time information delivers one version of the truth

A common problem many of us face is the need to obtain and present dynamic information. We use the word dynamic because the information you want is constantly changing, yet many still continue to go to IT to pull information which is then dumped into Excel or Access, then analyzed and presented to you. This can take days or even weeks to complete and by the time the answer arrives, the question has changed, or evolved.
Access to real-time information pulled from across the enterprise means you no longer have to wait. Based on your role within the company, the information is extracted from various systems, compiled and presented to you. No more dealing with the chaos that spreadsheets bring or worrying about the accuracy of your data.
The effects of this are far-reaching. The amount of time spent gathering and analyzing data can now be spent focused on strategic initiatives, enhancing productivity and reducing cycle times.


3. True collaboration

To really impact efficiency across the company you have to collaborate with your stakeholders. In the production planner example, access to the stakeholders that contribute to an efficient production process, such as a production supervisor, warehouse manager or sales manager, are essential to ensuring production runs smoothly. To do so, everyone must be working from and making decisions based on the same information.
For example, if requests directly linked to production have not been approved, the product planner is notified through the personalized, real-time dashboard. Now, working together with the purchasing manager they can ensure the right materials are ordered and production continues as required.
In another example, Kai must develop a plan based on a sales forecast. Typically this requires him to wait for each region to provide their forecasts which, in turn, depends on each sales person funneling information to the region heads. This process is time consuming and based on one person providing information to another who in turn provides a recompiled report to another. This is very similar to the childhood game of telephone. What you start with isn’t what always comes out in the end.
Through collaborative tools such as next generation dashboards, one can immediately see the sales forecast and know how to make adjustments to the production schedule, including supporting activities such as number of shifts, overtime, and maintenance to machines to increase uptime. All of this can be done ahead of time because you can see the sales plan and how it interacts with each stakeholder.

Next time you fire up the computer in the morning, look at the information that is presented to you and determine if it is all relevant to your job, delivers real-time information from across the enterprise and helps you collaborate with colleagues. Does it answer the question, what information do I need to make my day efficient and productive?
Dashboards are changing to be even more personalized. Maybe one day they will know what kind of coffee you prefer and make sure it is ready when you get to work. You never know!

Christina McKeon is director of product marketing, Performance Management, at Infor, where she is responsible for driving Infor’s global performance management strategy. McKeon focuses on working with users, managers and executives within organizations to understand market drivers for performance management. She has more than 17 years of experience including working for manufacturers of power management devices and pulp and paper products. McKeon has spoken to IT and business audiences on performance management at conferences including TDWI and APICS.


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