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Monday, March 10, 2008

CIO Dashboard

Recently I read the following InformationWeek article: Hunting the Elusive CIO Dashboard. As I read my heart began to race and I felt some panic. I didn't have a dashboard. Were other technology management professionals leaving me behind? Was there something I was missing? Did I even have any Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)? What was wrong with my leadership that I didn't have a nifty tool to peer into the inner workings of my organization? Then there was this statement "...when the CIO can't get a clear picture of the real-time data that underlies critical applications, infrastructure, and projects, IT too often ends up reacting to issues after users and customers are having problems." Man, that sounded too familiar.

Thus began my hunt for that elusive dashboard. I started with the question: "What are my KPIs?" I compiled a list of the things that keep me up at night namely: financials, resource allocation and workload, and network and systems performance.

My next question was "If these are the most important items to me, how do I track them today?" The truth is, I do track them. While I might not have a really cool dashboard, I do use multiple tools to get the information I need. I pull financial information out of our financial applications, I track resource usage and workload through our request system, and i track network and systems performance through our monitoring systems.

I began to think about how I could consolidate the data into a high level dashboard, and how I might want to organize one. This led me to do some research I'm referring to googling variations of "CIO dashboard." I found several products that I won't list here, including some BI tools that are already in use in my organization. One thing that the majority of these tools require is for the data that feeds the dashboard to be in a database. Not a problem, 99% of the information I look at is pulled from a table.

The more I researched, the more I wanted to find a simple (and hopefully cheap) tool that would provide a front-end with the capability of linking to other applications for drilling into the details. Why reinvent the wheel? I eventually settled on an open source product called MarvelIT. MarvelIT is an Apache Jetspeed portal based product. It provides several cool little portlets that you use for building charts, reports, rss feeds, etc. It's MySQL based and also includes the drivers for Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle. As long as you, or someone on your staff, can create the queries and format some XML, MarvelIT will work for you. I really like that it's browser based a platform independent...translation it runs on Macs, Windows, and Linux machines.

As I mentioned earlier, 99% of the information I need can be pulled from an existing table. For the rest, mostly in the form of capital expenditures and internally developed software costs, I added some tables to the MarvelIT database (I could've created a separate database but I used MarvelIT's for convenience). MarvelIT provides some data entry portlet tools. I tied those into the tables I created so that I can update them from the site.

I organized my dashboard into two sections. The left side contains resource, systems, and network utilization. The right side contains my financial indicators. I set up URLs behind the charts and reports to the applications I'm pulling information from...well, at least those applications that have a web interface. I must admit it's really nice being able to track my KPI's in one place.

It took me less than a week to set up my CIO dashboard. If you're in IT management and you're looking for a dashboard tool without spending lots of money, I recommend MarvelIT. Click here to see a sample of my dashboard...before you ask it's using test data I loaded on my Macbook Pro.

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