Keeping it simple: the future of management information?

By Rebecca McCaffry

At a recent UK conference, Tom Steinberg, founder of the e-democracy project MySociety, highlighted the differences between the typical management information dashboard we use at work, and the clear, straightforward messaging we have come to expect in our ‘civilian lives’, such as bank balance text messaging and infographic weather forecasts.

The huge success of websites based on simple, visual concepts, such as the online pinboard Pinterest and the rise of ‘information designers’ like David McCandless of Information is Beautiful fame would appear to back this up.

I can hear the cries of ‘Dumbing down!!’ from outraged management accountants everywhere – but is that really what’s happening? The digital age has redefined the way in which we view and absorb information, and the way in which it is presented can mean the difference between it being read or ignored. A prime example is the UK site They Work for You, which engages audiences with parliamentary debate by presenting the conversations in a ‘discussion board’ format (here's a recent one on banking reform).

Yes, we love our carefully crafted dashboards, but are the key messages really being understood by their intended audience? Can you be absolutely sure of that? The chances are that if people don’t understand the messages, they won’t actually admit to not understanding.

The best discipline for management information, says Steinberg, is to make it relevant to the general public. Can you honestly say that you’d spend any length of time looking at your own MI if you happened across it while browsing?