57 KPIs (and Nothin’ Clear)


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I am not really sure why a Bruce Springsteen song would inspire me to write, but it happened. I am also sure you ‘younger kids’ out there are thinking “wow, his TV provider is horrible – who only gets 57 channels?” But that isn’t the point of this musing. The real message here is how we consume information and make decisions based on what we see.

For years the healthcare industry had a best-in-breed approach to applications, and each system could only see information that it produced. Today we are more than capable of mashing up all this information on one screen. The question we now have to ask is, should we.

I absolutely love the TV show “Brain Games” on the National Geographic channel. I find it AMAZING how the brain often short circuits, or turns a blind eye to what we are seeing in an effort to try to guide you and I to the best choice, or what it perceives is the best choice. Okay Dave, we now know your TV viewing habits, but how is this related to Business Intelligence (BI)? I am so happy you asked! There are two age-old trends in BI that seem to be on the uptick again: real-time BI and general dashboard creation.

Great – so what does this have to do with “The Boss” and 57 Channels? Well, have you ever wondered why your brain can’t decide on something to watch? Or when you walk into an ice cream parlor and just can’t pick one flavor of ice cream? How about going to the grocery store and just staring at the selection of canned soup? Now, think of staring at a dashboard full of indicators, arrows, and gauges, all changing in a blink of an eye. Do you think you would be confused or disoriented by any of these situations? The answer should be a resounding YES, but don’t worry, you are not alone. This is what physiologists call the Theory of Paradox, which basically states that when you have too much information, your brain can go into “analysis paralysis” mode.

Let’s talk BI. Think about real-time BI and the challenge to effectively report this information.

  • Think about your data domain – clinical, financial, revenue cycle, HR, and the list goes on.
  • Think about the quantities and types of information that can be plotted looking at a single screen – for example what if I took all meaningful use stage one and stage two metrics and put them on the screen at once.
  • Take into account how ‘real-time’ you want your ‘real-time’ information to be – things like time to treatment (ER), current staffing level, and rounding status to name a few.
  • Add-in a specific number of KPIs that also need to be monitored rather than just graphed or placed in a gauge.

What is the “right” number of metrics? What happens to real-time data if the outlier represented on the screen is missed; if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If your data changes on your screen, and you didn’t see it, did it actually happen?

My point with the deluge of questions is really around effective – or ineffective – dashboard design. Far too often I hear of requests for 20 distinct KPIs per page with 27 dial gauges to support the KPIs. In today’s world, it often isn’t about a lack of data we have access to, but rather having too much data. Organizing data logically on a page becomes the new challenge.

I strongly encourage each one of you to take a look at your enterprise KPI dashboard solutions as well as any real-time data feeds you may have and see if the information is clear and succinct. Think about some ways that you could lay out the information on the page or report that might yield it more digestible for users.

Would you like vanilla or chocolate? Lab results or financial KPIs? Channel 13 or channel 43? Isn’t that much easier to select from?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Harper
Dave Harper, Director of Aspect Analytics National Practice, speaks nationally on industry technology trends and at many events in all vertical markets. Dave continues to serve as the technical architect on many of Aspect's large-scale analytics projects. He has more than 12 years of experience developing and implementing solutions for all types of organizations, with significant experience in creating leading-edge Microsoft Business Intelligence solutions.


  1. Clever angle, Dave, but of course the solution is not so simple as vanilla or chocolate, or is it?

    Customer satisfaction, new revenue, revenue per call and cancellations are necessary KPI’s, but if you think about it, they all have a direct correlation with the customer recognising you as someone worth talking to, a good pitch, great rapport building questions and a closing statement that crosses the transaction. In my mind, the single most relevant KPI then becomes: getting on the customers side.

    My company has developed a piece of emotion recognition software, which measures the emotion indicated by a customer’s voice and in effect: how well the agent is getting on the customer’s side. It feeds its results into a Tableau dashboard which also feeds off the clients BI, and hey presto, now you can have all flavours in one cone!


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