Media workflow dashboards

In any endeavor there are three types of decision making; operational, tactical and strategic. Dashboards are one effective method of presenting that information.

The user interface to a particular media application, such as a vision mixer or CCU, may not be suited to providing the operator the information required about the total process. This is especially true as more and more operators are required to multitask and crew sizes are reduced. Modern process control applications provide dashboards specifically designed to present “information at a glance”. Not only does this allow for anticipation of actions to be taken, it provides reassurance that the process is proceeding according to plan

Figure 1, the operational dashboard for a media workflow, presents the information requested for a graphic artist creating all elements for the season. The following information was deemed to be of interest:

  • Production timeline actual
  • Production timeline planned
  • Current task % completed
  • Pending actions external 7 days
  • Pending actions internal7 days
  • Optional paths
Figure 1. Some data may need to be presented more than once. In this dashboard, the timeline is show twice; once for planned time and once for actual time used.

Figure 1. Some data may need to be presented more than once. In this dashboard, the timeline is show twice; once for planned time and once for actual time used.

Time Spent Versus Plan

In Figure 1 notice that the timeline is shown twice; Planned and Actual. This method of presentation allows us to see exactly when things started to slip. The “Lupe” pushes the rest of the time line together it does not cover it up.

The difference between an operational dashboard, like Figure 1, and dashboards for other stakeholders is subtle as many elements are inclusively relevant. However the audience should not only determine what information is presented, but also how it is presented.


Show the right information

Operational dashboards are useless if they do not convey the information unambiguously and quickly. Quickly not only means “at a glance” but also timely.Getting timely information without operator effort is made possible by today's automated systems. The information in Figure 2 is automatically generated by the underlying workflow engine. The alerts are pre-programmed into the system and are triggered by workflow events.

Each dashboard is designed for a specific user group. The balance between density of information and immediacy of recognition reflects whether the information is being used for operational, tactical or strategic purpose. Figure 2 represents a tactical dashboard. Notice that more information is being presented but it is not so easy to see at a glance the status of any particular parameter.

Figure 2. While dashboard software makes it easy to add more information to a screen, avoid overloading the space, as data becomes harder for operators to see.

Figure 2. While dashboard software makes it easy to add more information to a screen, avoid overloading the space, as data becomes harder for operators to see.

When designing Dashboards, first determine whether the information is for operational. tactical or strategic purposes. Next determine what information you wish to present, be flexible here, as adding workflow tasks simply for the the purpose of generating information is always counter-productive. If the system is not gathering information on every subtask, then you probably do not require this information in your dashboard.

Also, consider the presentation environment. Is the dashboard for presentation to a group of operators, or does it need to be visible on the 640 x 320 screen of a smart phone? Using colour as the sole source of status information is not recommended, 7-10% of all males cannot adequately differentiate between red and green. Sometimes text is the most efficient way to convey information, trying to get everything at a glance will not be as useful as using text to convey the detail. Finally, ask yourself if the dashboard needs to be interactive with drill down capabilities for detail, or should it simply convey status at a glance?

Figure 3. Note the information is organized and sized for three types of displays. Each display shows different information, keyed to the tasks of the display's owner. Image courtesy Enterprise Dashboard.

Figure 3. Note the information is organized and sized for three types of displays. Each display shows different information, keyed to the tasks of the display's owner. Image courtesy Enterprise Dashboard.

The data choices made in Figure 3 provide include visibility on three types of displays; smart phone, tablet and desktop monitor. It provides all three displays with an at a glance information, tactical information as text, and both colour and shading for status information. The client did not request the level of detail showing the status of each task in the overall project, but the workflow provided this information.

The flow of information from top to bottom reflects the importance which that information should have to the user as determined by management. This was discussed with the users and found acceptable. The limited space given to the tactical information is satisfactory because if more than this space is required, things are seriously out of wack. The dashboard is not the only source of information as the workflow task assignments include much more detail.

Looking to the future of dashboards in media production, Ultimate Fighting Championship Franchise executive Christy King said “A ton of effort is being expended right now to improve live-production analytics and display. Previously, this was a gut reaction by the producer. Now, there’s info coming in, so you’re not guessing so much as reacting and taking action. I can see production trucks with analytics screens alongside the video displays.”

Until then, think about how you can use the information your systems already generate to make your operators more efficient and keep management better informed.

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