Media Dashboards: Just Like Pushing the Easy Button? Not!

For the last couple of years, I have been writing and speaking about the need for media dashboards. We had one good experiment with a short-lived company called Blackfoot. Great concept -- but the company did not survive.

Now we're in the final process of evaluating a slew of dashboard options. And, the dashboard companies are calling on our clients, trying to sell them indirectly to the client. To someone who has not gone through the pain of adopting a new technology for the media market, the general feeling, based on the demos that are being shown by these vendors, is that it's just like the Staples campaign: getting a dashboard is akin to pressing the easy button. In many cases, the companies will give you a month or two or three for free, so there is no cost in testing, right? Wrong, very wrong.

Here is a list of things you are going to have to think about and actually do before you can have your dashboard up and running (Yes, this productivity tool involves MORE work). And even if you do all of these things, you may pick the wrong alternative, based on not assessing all of your needs or being sold something that is not "ready for prime time."

Your own requirements. Have you thought about what you want out of the dashboard? Have you defined the fields that you will be reporting on? Have you determined how you will filter the information for various users? (Think of these two things as the vertical and horizontal axis on a spreadsheet).
What about graphs? Do you know what kind of graphs you'll need?

What about end users? How many classes of users are you thinking about? Does the software permit you to limit some users (like clients or upper management) to certain types of pre-determined data sets while others such as analysts can slice and dice the data at will?

And, who owns the data? Can you easily get it back out if you need to change vendors?

Product. Can the product integrate outside services such as third-party ad servers (3PAS), search data and data from traditional media efforts by your client?
Can it integrate with back end metrics such as Omniture, Google Analytics, WebTrends, and "roll your own" in house solutions that many clients have?
Can you create custom business rules that you can use over and over to generate the kind of reports you need automatically? This is huge as 3PAS reporting is one of the biggest time sucks in an agency environment.
Can you customize for your own workflow, cost basis, etc.? How about customization by client? By custom calculations? By custom database creation (demos, geos, etc.)?
Does the product have sufficient security, password protection, audit trail, Sox compliancy, etc?
Is it scalable?
Can you track full click/impression/viewthrough to conversion paths and drop offs?
Does it provide for cookie tracking, history and analytics?
What about history? Can you retrofit that in?
Lastly, what about data collection, aggregation and validation? How does the dashboard provider collect disparate data from a publisher that doesn't reside in standard digital format? Do they have the ability to accept e-mails, FTP site collection, manual log files, screen scrapes, or literally pick up the phone and get the data in person? And, how is this data validated and audited?

Interface. Is the API robust?
Can you import and export almost everything?
Does it have a fast, clean interface and/or drop down menus?
Is it accurate? Can you verify that?

Reporting. Does it have drill-down detail capabilities?
Can you do pivot tables, easy graphs and detailed list reporting? Are these drag and drop?
Can you do simple trend charts? Can you control periodicity of reports? Can you do actual vs. buy vs. plan reports? Can you segment reports by client, brand, channel, product, etc.? What about historical reporting?
Are there email alert custom rules?

This just scratches the surface of our list. We welcome input on areas that we've omitted.

And when you do select a vendor, be sure to take them up on the free testing period. The reality is that not all of this software is ready for distribution. And if they say it is in beta, find out what that means, because there are many flavors of that, too. And let me know how you are doing with your dashboard initiative!

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