Digital Dashboard Helps Business Decision Makers Tame “Information Overload”

REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 20, 1999 — Accessing all the information you need to make fast but well-informed business decisions has never been easy. In the age of information overload, it has only become more difficult. Sifting through databases chock-full of critical company data, various corporate applications housing key business content, and the nearly limitless information available on the Internet can leave even the brightest, most efficient decision maker feeling like a navigator without a compass.

While technology has delivered unprecedented access to as much data as any business decision maker could possibly want, it hasn’t delivered it in a way that provides quick, easy access to only the most relevant information for any particular task. Until now.

Microsoft’s recently announced concept of the digital dashboard, a customized knowledge-management solution based on Office 2000, tames information overload by consolidating personal, team, corporate and external information with single-click access to analytical and collaborative tools–all within one, customizable view from the desktop.

A digital dashboard is designed to provide immediate access to the intellectual assets of a business so that knowledge workers can make faster, more informed business decisions. The integrated solution helps users quickly process information that is relevant and critical to their particular responsibilities and then focus on details or take action.

Based on the familiar Microsoft Office environment, a digital dashboard is a customized version of Outlook messaging and collaboration software that integrates with the analysis tools, collaboration capabilities, and Internet and messaging standards support in Office 2000. It provides the same functionality, including access to corporate applications and the Web, whether users are connected to the network or working offline. (Click here to see a screenshot.)

“A digital dashboard is really the canonical application that brings together a company’s information resources, the business productivity tools in Office and the back-end functionality of BackOffice and delivers them in a meaningful way to the knowledge worker’s desktop,”
said Bart Wojciehowski, group product manager at Microsoft.
“It does this by leveraging the inherent capabilities of Microsoft Exchange Server and SQL Server in BackOffice, to the point where they become the forefront in melding the information assets of a company with the user environment to create a unified, personalized experience.”

Part of a Larger Knowledge Management Strategy

Digital dashboard is just one of four initiatives that are part of Microsoft’s knowledge management strategy, which it calls
“knowledge workers without limits.”
The initiatives define the company’s long-term strategic direction. In the coming year, a combination of new technologies, services and collaborative efforts with partners will deliver on this vision. They are intended to revolutionize the way business decision makers create, share and use information to serve their customers from any location and at any time.

In addition to digital dashboard, the initiatives include Web Store technology, which will open applications to knowledge sources of all kinds; mobility and wireless solutions, which will provide access to information from any location and at any time; and intelligent interfaces, which will make it as easy to interact with PCs as it is with people.

Microsoft today announced the availability of three technology updates as part of its digital dashboard initiative–the Digital Dashboard Starter Kit, Outlook 2000 Team Folder Wizard, and Team Productivity Update for BackOffice 4.5.

The starter kit enables partners and customers to build digital dashboards for knowledge workers. It includes a general template for building a digital dashboard from the ground up, as well as five templates customized for particular industries, such as healthcare, manufacturing and insurance, and for particular functions, such as sales and finance. All the templates can be further customized to meet the unique needs of individual users.

Knowledge Sharing for Competitive Advantage

Microsoft partners are already building and implementing digital dashboard solutions for their customers. InfoCal, a Calif.-based knowledge-management application developer, specializes in the design, development and deployment of digital dashboards. The company is currently implementing digital dashboard solutions for a number of customers, including Troop Steuber Pasich Reddick & Tobey, LLP, a firm that provides comprehensive business law services, and Pacific Life Insurance Co, which provides asset protection and long-term care insurance for retirees.

InfoCal applies its process knowledge and implementation expertise to help companies prepare for digital dashboard solutions by first assisting them in defining how a digital dashboard should function in their company–what information it will deliver, how it will deliver it and to whom. The company then builds and customizes the solutions and integrates them with various internal and external systems, such as legacy systems and enterprise resource planning packages. Wherever a company stores its critical information, InfoCal works to extract that data, putting it in convenient, easy-to-access nuggets on the digital dashboard screen.

“Our customers are really excited about making the cultural shift from individual information ownership to organizational knowledge sharing,”
said Mitch Gordon, general manager of InfoCal.
“They understand knowledge management is as much about competitive advantage as it is about improving efficiency. They’ve done the research–they know companies that share knowledge outperform those that don’t.”

One of the biggest lures of a digital dashboard is that it allows companies to leverage their existing investments in Microsoft technologies, according to Gordon.

“Customers aren’t interested in forklifting an entire infrastructure to provide their corporate portal framework,”
he said.

Not only does digital dashboard leverage Microsoft technologies that are already in place, but it also is an open solution, one that can tap into any data source. It consolidates disparate information sources and multiple applications — from legacy systems, Web servers, Exchange Server 5.5 and SQL Server 7.0 — into a single, integrated and customizable environment that keeps decision makers informed about key business issues.

The solution, which functions very much like an instrument dashboard, provides indicators about the health of a knowledge worker’s specific area of responsibility and expertise, such as sales, for example. Because a digital dashboard is focused on elements uniquely important to a particular user’s job, knowledge workers can rely on the solution to alert them when an action or decision is necessary rather than having to constantly scan information from various sources to stay on top of particular issues.

Another key advantage for customers, according to Gordon, is the synchronization capability of the digital dashboard. Unlike browser-based solutions, a digital dashboard supports both connected and offline operations, so users get the same functionality regardless of time and place.

“You can be on the road, working offline, and still have easy access to the critical business information and collaborative capabilities that can help your company beat the competition,”
Gordon said.

The View From the Desktop

Because digital dashboard is integrated with Office 2000, users can get a comprehensive view on their desktop screen of personal information such as e-mail, calendar, tasks and personal files–essential information that is usually not supported by server-based intranet portals. Within the familiar Outlook environment, dispersed workgroups can share knowledge and collaborate by creating shared documents, discussions, project tasks and other collaborative activities.

Vital corporate information, such as manufacturing or customer satisfaction data, might be one business indicator positioned somewhere on the user’s screen. Digital dashboard supports data connectivity standards that enable easy navigation of corporate information to provide answers to the kinds of questions knowledge workers are faced with every day. The dashboard also provides single-click access to the rich analysis tools found in Office 2000 to help knowledge workers drill down and further analyze critical business data.

On another part of the digital dashboard screen, a knowledge worker might have repository of external information, such as important Web links, stock tickers, and targeted news feeds covering specific industries. The dashboard solution supports Internet and messaging standards, including HTTP, HTML and XML protocols.

By giving users one desktop view that consolidates critical company data, rich analysis tools, collaborative capabilities and external information, companies can get one step closer to removing the road blocks that get between them and sound business decisions. Digital dashboard imposes much needed order on the flow of information, so that business decision makers can stay on course — and maybe even win the race.

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