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An executive dashboard is a computerized system that brings together information from across a company. It is designed primarily to allow managers and senior executives to quickly get an overview of what is happening throughout the business and spot potential problems. The name comes from the analogy of a car dashboard that gives quick indicators of key measures such as speed, gas level and RPMs.
The information presented in an executive dashboard is usually little different to that which would previously have been presented to management through executive reports. For example, it could include sales figures, purchasing, manufacturing levels and quality control. In most cases it will cover both issues relating to the specific services or products the company makes, and more general business issues such as human resources data like sickness absence levels.
One definition of an executive dashboard's purpose is that it should fulfill three roles. Firstly, it should give specific data that an executive may need to know. Secondly, it should clearly indicate potential problems. Finally, it should provide the detail needed to allow the executive to make informed decisions.
From a technical perspective, there are several different formats for an executive dashboard. Perhaps the most common is the simple standalone application, which is usually the most powerful and complicated, but also potentially the most expensive. Another format is a browser-based application, which the user can access by visiting a web page, normally with a password protection. This format means executives can access the data from virtually any device. A less common format is the desktop widget, which is built into a computer's operating system in the same way as a clock, calendar or weather data service might be.
The biggest distinction between different types of executive dashboard is the level of customization available. The simplest type is completely fixed and can only cover the types of data it is designed for. More advanced dashboards allow the user greater control over how the data is displayed, for example which information appears by default and which is accessible through additional menus.
The most sophisticated versions give the user complete control over what data is included and how it is displayed. These dashboards will also allow different settings for different users. This isn't just a case of different executives having different interests: the customization may also allow confidential information to be restricted to particular people who are authorized to see it.