Some executives like to describe businesses in nautical terms. Start-ups are like speedboats they say, able to change direction on a dime as called for by market conditions. The huge multinational conglomerates on the other hand, are the supertankers, lumbering and powerful hulks, which take lots of planning and foresight before they make the slightest move.
Well, consider the supertanker Knock Nevis, the world's largest ship. It tips the scales at nearly 600,000 tons (eight times the weight of the biggest battleship ever constructed), and is about 1500 feet long. In spite of this enormous and complex mass, the many systems of the Nevis can be controlled from a small room in the superstructure by just a handful of sailors.
Every business, like every ship, has to have someone at the helm, reading conditions, navigating a course, and making the big decisions. But executives don't have the benefit of a ship's bridge, a single place where every operation can be monitored and controlled at the flip of a switch.
The closest a CEO can come to that kind of command are IT tools powered by business intelligence systems. For example, business dashboards provide what is essentially a control panel for monitoring the vital functions of the business. They supply immediate information and indicate when and where performance is lagging. With the help of the dashboard, its user might be able to keep the ship afloat.
In the 1980s, as virtually ...