Executive Information Systems come in may guises and to realise the technology's potential requires a re-think of a business from first principles. Jane Bird.
To fly a jumbo jet is a task of such complexity that today's airline pilots rely on electronic control panels in order to do their jobs. But running a business can be just as difficult, which is why the earth-bound executives at Caledonian Airways (CA) are also using computer consoles to keep in control. By touching a button, Clare Hollingsworth, CA's managing director can instantly check how the company is matching up to each of its targets. When goals are not met, or potential business hazards spotted, the red lights flash. 'Its greatest value is in providing more time to concentrate on critical issues rather than the company's ongoing activity,' she says.
The power behind Hollingsworth's console is provided by an Executive Information System (EIS). This is an ingenious suite of computer instructions that filters information for busy senior managers, extracting that which is relevant, accurate and timely and delivering it to their desk-top screens in colourful easy-to-understand graphics and numbers. The executive can then zoom in on areas of interest by touching the relevant portion of the screen, exploding layer after layer of dazzling graphical analysis as he experiments with any number of what-if? hypotheses. Items of interest can then be annotated and dispatched electronically to the relevant manager. No typing is necessary. A series of standard pull-down memos can be used to say, for example, 'Have you seen this?' or 'I think we should meet to discuss the overspend.'