Home Where Is My Dashboard Aggregator?

Where Is My Dashboard Aggregator?

In the old days, somebody running a business had a cadre of middle managers who aggregated data about the performance of different parts of the business. They would typically write monthly reports highlighting trends, issues, and exceptions. In a modern, web-enabled, web-centric business, this role is served by the online dashboards provided by various services. The challenge today is aggregating and integrating those services. I see this challenge in the real world from running ReadWriteWeb’s business operations. This gap seems like a good start-up opportunity. Perhaps somebody is already filling it?

Here Are My Dashboards

If you looked at my Firefox toolbar, you would see a number of services essential to running the business. In no particular order:

  • Google Analytics,
  • Federated Media (our advertising network partner),
  • OpenX (which serves the ads that we sell directly),
  • Basecamp (for internal project discussions),
  • Relenta (my email-based CRM-lite).

I am leaving off this list all of the external news-oriented services that enable me to navigate my canoe down the river of news. I am focusing here on the dashboards for business applications that impact client satisfaction, revenue, and cash flow. ReadWriteWeb runs on SaaS. These services are the mission-critical core of our business. They enable a tiny, reasonably complex business to be managed with minimal overhead (i.e. profitably).

More are coming, too. We are implementing a new SaaS-based accounting system that will come with its own dashboard. We are building new revenue-generating partnerships, each of which will have its own dashboard. This is where things can get out of control. Each of these new dashboards will be important, but each will be just one piece of the overall puzzle.

Here Is the Problem

In a word, “integration” (a.k.a. aggregation). I need to log in to each of these services to extract the information I need and then move on to the next one. That is not a huge problem, but it is a hassle and a time-drain. And time-drains take away from the really important things that grow the business.

Multiple sign-on is not a problem. Well, it would be if I were more security-conscious. The real problem is data integration.

Envisaging the Solution

I envisage something like a start page. I use MyYahoo, but it could just as well be something like Netvibes or Pageflakes. I want to aggregate the services of my choosing and have control over the layout.

This aggregator service of mine should allow me to log in to each of my services (securely, of course). If it did that, I would implement a more secure log-in to the aggregator service itself.

But I would need control at a more granular level than typical start pages provide. Typical start pages give me control over RSS feeds, but I already get all the RSS feeds from the services I’m on. For example, I get all posts from ReadWriteWeb.

If I got every raw data point update from Google Analytics, Federated Media, OpenX, and all my other dashboards, it would be like sipping from a fire hose (i.e. useless).

There needs to be API-level access, so that I can select only the data points I need for each service. I should be able to set ranges and get exception reports. This is what middle managers did so well: “Here is the issue you need to focus on now, boss”. I would still need to be able to deep-dive occasionally into an individual service, but my daily dashboard would be this aggregator service.

This feels a bit like what PubSub does. My guess is that the XMPP standard may have a role to play in the solution. But now I am straying from my reservation (requirements) into the badlands of technical solutions…

The other big requirement is that it has to be small-screen friendly, so that I can easily see it on a mobile screen (hint to all you cool iPhone-toting developers: make this Blackberry native-friendly, please — that is what biz guys use).

Reflections on Enterprise 2.0

I manage an enterprise. Okay, it is a small enterprise. Okay, it is a really small enterprise! But it is a multi-national (we operate globally), and it has multiple revenue lines, so there is some complexity. As a management team, we are small by design. This enables us to be agile and profitable.

I see profit centers in large companies increasingly working the same way.

A business is a business. Adding a few zeros to the end of a report does not change the fundamentals. A large business is increasingly becoming an aggregation of a lot of smaller businesses (with or without synergy, the logic may simply be access to cheap capital).

If that is how this pans out, the winners will be start-ups that sell to small businesses and slip in the back door of large companies guarded by profit-center managers. They’ll win bigger than the incumbent big vendors that sell to the CIO and other central-overhead managers. Historically, this is how it has always panned out. Microsoft did not start out selling to the enterprise. It made its mark as a pirate, empowering individuals to do stuff on the PC.

This reflection is prompted by the news that Oracle is buying Sun and by the vision of a world where all enterprise software is sold by three behemoths. Ahem… baloney!

Have You Seen Anything Like This?

Surely other people face this issue? So, somebody must have come up with a solution.

I’ve seen “SaaS integration” solutions. But they seem overly complex, stuck in the middleware paradigm.

My service will have to be consumer-like in its ease of use. Anything that requires an IT department won’t cut it. Perhaps somebody who had built a really cool consumer app that did not solve a real problem or could not be monetized might want to take a crack at this. Or has that person already built one, and I just missed it?

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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