When you think about it, driving a car is pretty complicated. It requires coordinating several extremities while keeping your eyes on the road and the dashboard gauges. Steering a business takes just as much dexterity, which is why a dashboard view of your company's operational metrics could really come in handy.
SaaS leaders like NetSuite and Salesforce.com pioneered this kind of front end for business processes. And for a decade, I've been telling any QuickBooks manager who would feign interest that the small-business market leader also needs a dashboard as part of its flowchart interface. Finally, someone has done it for them.
MyBizHomepage, a Middleburg, Virginia-based startup, automatically uploads your QuickBooks data (2007 and 2008 versions only) to your own customizable web page, where you can keep an eye on your enterprise's critical operational factors in real time. Many are standard-but-important business measures—the state of payables, receivables, cash flow and inventory. But coming soon, says founder and CEO Peter Justen, are customizable gauges that your particular business might need more than others.
MyBizHomepage is a lot cheaper than NetSuite or Salesforce.com—as in, it's free. In fact, if you're not using a recent version of QuickBooks, you can download a free copy of Intuit's $99 Simple Start 2008 during MyBizHomepage setup, which will make your data available to the dashboard. MyBizHomepage lets you choose how often you want your data display refreshed, including as often as your numbers change. It uses QuickBooks' Web Connector to analyze your QuickBooks data, and three car dashboard designs—a Ferrari, Mini Cooper or '69 Chevelle—will soon be available for MyBizHomepage gauges. Your page is filled out by various RSS feeds of your choice, not unlike a Google or Yahoo homepage.
So what do NetSuite and Salesforce.com have that MyBizHomepage doesn't? Deeper and broader hooks into business processes. They're older, more established, broader in scope and more integrated across enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management than the fledgling MyBizHomepage.
NetSuite provides seemingly limitless views into your books, e-commerce website, ERP and CRM—and it's all housed in its robust enter-once-use-everywhere Oracle data container. Salesforce.com is more focused on marketing, sales force automation and customer relationship management. But both keep you dialed in to your business processes in real time; and of course, being SaaS applications, the information is always as close as a web browser.
Neither includes a flashy set of muscle car gauges. Like many of the "dashboard" interfaces popping up in various productivity programs and services today, they use a collection of tiled or overlapping windows filled with text or graphics. Some are arrayed in sidebars widget-style, while you hop among others by clicking on file folder tabs or web links. The real significance of the metaphor is that, like an automobile dashboard, these interfaces bring forward critical-but-buried operational data in a timely fashion. Barely out of beta, MyBizHomepage is hardly the fulfillment of Justen's vision. But it's an easy-to-take first step toward a holistic view of your business, industry and the economy at large. There are little gems of managerial intelligence buried in your books that can help keep your business operating within the yellow lines.
—By Mike Hogan
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