Until recently, managers and employees who wanted key company information, such as gross revenue, working gross profit margin, and total accounts receivable and accounts payable owing, at their fingertips were forced to print paper reports. Now with the interconnectivity of many software programs and online enterprise software, small business owners can customize much of their important data into a personalized dashboard that provides real-time, instantly available company information on their computer screens.
Employees may need different pieces of critical company information, depending on their jobs. The purchasing agent, for example, might want to see inventory levels of top-selling items and their sales histories. The accounts receivable collection clerk might need a current accounts receivable aging and pending orders list for any past-due customers, while the most senior manager may want access to different groupings of information to compare simultaneously.
With computer-based dashboards, performance information is shown on one screen, and you can drill down into the detail that makes up the summary performance information. Employing dashboards helps you percolate the most important information you need on a regular basis to the surface so you can make informed decisions about your business.
Dashboards can be originally designed into desktop- or server-based applications for small business software, such as ACT, Salesforce.com, NetSuite, and many other popular applications. QuickBooks Enterprise Edition comes with customizable dashboards. With QuickBooks and QuickBooks Pro you can opt for highly customized third-party dashboards if you don’t like the boilerplate offering.
One third-party dashboard provider, InfoCaptor, allows the interconnection of any programs that use a supported database structure. The data is pulled from various application databases into Microsoft Excel to form the integrated dashboard.
Salesforce.com and NetSuite are Web-based integrated business management software systems. These systems offer an advantage by allowing authorized employees from multiple locations to view dashboard information simultaneously in real time. Both Salesforce.com and NetSuite have extremely customizable dashboards showing a wide variety of key performance information.
Microsoft Outlook can be customized to give you a simple dashboard showing tasks, e-mail, tracking, calendar, and notes, while Microsoft Access can be highly customized and designed to provide summary data in one place.
Dashboard Zone has a listing of many third-party companies that provide customizable dashboards, depending on the applications you wish to integrate. Interconnectivity among your various software programs depends on the software design of the programs you want to retrieve data from for your dashboard. Going this route requires a moderate amount of customization and integration work.
Sam Thacker is a partner in Austin, Texas–based Business Finance Solutions.