From Data to Value – Building Meaningful Dashboards to Drive Healthcare Transformation

By Kevin Dawson, M.D., CHCIO – CIO, Howard University Hospital

Organizations rely on IT to deliver the right information to the right information consumers at the right time to drive information-driven decision-making. In healthcare, the information consumers include clinicians, other knowledge workers, and patients. The demand for accurate, complete, reliable, relevant, and near real-time information is higher than the supply for such information. This is due to many factors. Healthcare organizations are risk-averse, adopt new technologies late, and are concerned about the skyrocketing cost of IT. Consequently, healthcare CIOs have a demanding duty to improve the supply of high-quality actionable information.

CIOs need to lead by example, implement industry best practices, and assure that strategic and tactical decisions are driven by high-quality information. CIOs won’t be seen credible if we don’t innovate and rely on data in our own departments. Dashboards serve an important role in meeting this objective. IT and organizational leadership are the typical audiences for these dashboards. Consistent data presentation is important to compare dashboards over time. These dashboards are useful not only for managing IT but also telling a story about IT. CIOs may need multiple dashboards to show progress on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. There is no one-fits-all dashboard. Different metrics are needed depending on the organization’s current priorities and business phase. Organizations executing a strategic transformation need different dashboards than those focusing on continuous improvement.

A weekly dashboard is used for everyday IT management. Its audiences are the executive team and IT leadership.

Annual dashboards are used for Board presentations and deliver the message of how IT adds value to the organization. An effective way of summarizing data is by presenting IT in numbers. These numbers may include computing endpoints, servers, networking equipment, user accounts, applications, and phones under management; projects completed; user tickets, and major network and security incidents resolved. If a transformation program is in progress, a high-level roadmap can show what has been accomplished, in progress, and still ahead. Strategic objectives set for the year could be presented in a table with green checkmarks showing when objectives have been met or in yellow or red if minor or major obstacles were encountered. While most of the audience will look at only the high-level dashboard, it is OK to add definitions and explanations in fine lines.

Monthly dashboards have a hybrid purpose to present strategic and tactical information. Their primary audience is the CEO, the executive team, and IT leadership. Strategic information includes the departmental mission and annual objectives. When objectives are achieved, they can be labeled with green checkmarks. Progress on a strategic transformation can be presented similar to the annual dashboard. The rest of the dashboard may include operational metrics presented as progress over time and high-level information about the project portfolio. Although the organization’s security posture is typically assessed less frequently, this dashboard is a good place to show progress over the years. For example, external auditors may score security status in the 19 HITRUST categories. Year-to-year progress can then be presented in a bar graph compared to industry averages. IT customers want to see progress on projects delivering value to their respective areas. Therefore, it’s beneficial to list major projects completed in the year and currently in progress. Month-to-month progress can be presented using various operational metrics which is important for the organization. This may include percentage of projects completed on time; changes implemented with no issues; number of hardware and application-related incidents; percentage of applications, servers, networking equipment, operating systems, and computing endpoints under vendor support; time to close helpdesk tickets; and various customer satisfaction metrics. Customer feedback can be collected by surveys attached to tickets and regular monthly surveys. Common survey questions are related to first-time resolution and professionalism. Progress on the annual budget is an important metric for managing IT. However, dependent on how widely this dashboard is disseminated, financial metrics may not be included.

A weekly dashboard is used for everyday IT management. Its audiences are the executive team and IT leadership. Availability of resources, incidents, training, helpdesk metrics, and progress on the project portfolio may be presented weekly. To facilitate understanding of the dashboard, all portions can be color-coded in green, yellow, and red dependent on whether the information presented represents preferred outcome, risks, or issues. As this is the most tactical dashboard, it’s OK to drill down to more granular details and present information by IT sections. Information on available resources may include new employees and separations. Major incidents may be listed by IT sections. The helpdesk’s operations can be summarized by the number of tickets closed or overdue broken down by major categories. To show trends over time, data on the current and five prior weeks may be presented and color-coded. In order to guide the audience, sparklines may be added and color-coded. At Howard University Hospital, we typically have 30-40 projects in progress at any given time. These projects are presented in a table with concise information on risks and issues in resources, timeline, and scope. In addition, the ETA of the project is listed and project progress is presented for the current and five prior weeks. Project scope, timeline, resources, and weekly progress are color-coded. In addition to the projects in progress, a smaller table summarizes the number of projects in various stages of the project lifecycle. Numbers of projects proposed, in due diligence, in contracting, to be scheduled, scheduled, in progress, completed, and on-hold are presented using sparklines over the six recent weeks as described above. Other categories may be presented from time to time.

These dashboards serve not only the CIO. They are communication tools within IT and also for the Board, the CEO, IT’s customers, and the executive team. Regular dissemination of these dashboards to the right audiences helps establish transparency and communicate IT’s strategy and operations.

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