Intelligent Enterprise has an article on executive dashboards. It highlights the difference between enterprise portals and executive dashboards:
An enterprise portal is just that: a portal. It’s a browser-based gateway to integrated information and applications to promote information sharing, consistency, and accessibility to members of the organizational value chain. An executive dashboard although it uses the same underlying technology is a much smaller-scale subset of portal technology that provides specific, performance-based information to upper-level management.
In short, a dashboard is a one-screen “cockpit” of all critical measurements for piloting a company, offering actionable information at management’s fingertips, business performance measurements at a glance, and up-to-date information on status and forecasts against benchmarks. Executive dashboards are ideal proof-of-concept BI projects, and they’re an absolute must for any organization that wants to keep a finger on the pulse of its business activities.
Each year companies spend billions on software, databases and storage systems to help them figure out what’s going on in their business. The typical big company now owns some 400 applications, few of which were designed to share information with one another. Every nine months the amount of data doubles as they store records about customers, inventory and employees–and most of the data go to waste. IBM figures companies use less than 1% of their data for analysis.
A new breed of software, called business intelligence (oxymoron, anyone?), aims to turn all those useless bits into valuable insights. It promises to grab data in any form from incompatible applications run by far-flung business divisions and convert the information into neat-looking tables, charts and maps. The graphical interfaces are dubbed cockpits, or dashboards, because some customers insist on feeding their metrics into airplane dials and sports car tachometers. Managers can combine their favorite inventory, sales, production and employee metrics with other information to form a personalized at-a-glance view of their fiefs.