Dashboarding systems

This morning I was supposed to be in a meeting discussing how our software suite can be used in the exciting healthcare space. As Ann Mayes and I went on a spree talking about the contacts from the field of genetics that we both happened to know, the meeting agenda was quickly thrown away, rather the conversation turned to gossip. It was a *fun* meeting!

One of the things that we were supposed to talk about was dashboarding. Currently, dashboarding systems are dime a dozen. There are at least a 100 companies that I know of that have developed such systems. Each of them claims to be a complete, easy to use dashboarding system. Heck, even I have designed one (or two depending on how you count). So, what is the deal with these tools anyway?

Firstly, this is a happening market. The need is there, some of the core components of the solution have been created and are being sold (flash/Java charts), and some of other core components have reached a mature stage (portlets or portlet like solutions). So, the problem is solvable.

Secondly, the total market value (the kinds of dollars and cents numbers that you need to show to your board or to yourself) is very large. So, it is easy to get sucked in, imagining you are going to make millions.

The drawback of course is that there are many tools out there right now, and the price is in a freefall. There are a few open source alternatives as well. So, pretty much the only thing that distinguishes the solutions really is how functional they are, and how easy to use they are. This lends itself to a challenge – there is no dominant user style or a user paradigm here. Every software tool declares itself the easiest to use. The age old 80-20 rule applies, 80% functional tools are available for 20% of the price, and are largely easy to use. The 100% functional tools are the worst ones, they are expensive, hard to setup, and have a steep learning curve.

One of the problems in selling is that most of the customers suddenly draw up a list of features that they would like, even though they currently have NOTHING (“I can call up my DBA anytime and get any data I want”, yeah right – Allan leaves at 3:30 PM sweet heart). So, the only solution that works out for them is a 100% solution, and suddenly you are a few hundred thousand dollars down and 3 months from doing a corporate wide launch and training sessions for this marvelous shiny rolls royce that you just bought. Mostly though, what was needed was a Chevy.

I will still have to wait and see what 2009, 2010 and 2011 have in store for dashboarding products. Maybe a winner will emerge. Maybe not.

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