VisionCompass interacts inside and outside company walls

Heading a modern company is a bit like guiding a nuclear submarine at top speed through enemy waters and attempting to surface without incident.

To successfully complete your job, you need “intelligent” information (i.e., data that isn’t immediately obvious but is synthesized and processed by an external agent), and you need it delivered at the right time. In other words, you need BI (business intelligence) software.

BI software has only recently come into its own. Once capable of little more than executing simple queries, today’s BI suites are sophisticated performance management tools capable of delivering relevant and timely intelligence.

But even so, many BI packages don’t merge their features with a governing methodology, such as the balanced scorecard, nor do many of them offer built-in collaboration tools, which coordinate your various departments and distributed offices into a single plan of action.

If these limitations sound familiar, you may want to take a look at VisionCompass Inc.’s VisionCompass 2.0. This enterprise management system supports a variety of different management methodologies, releasing organizations from the burden of maintaining multiple systems. With its comprehensive tracking and analysis, business intelligence, and enterprise collaboration tools, VisionCompass 2.0 was impressive enough to merit a Very Good score in our tests.

VisionCompass 2.0 contains three optionally-installable parts: the Workbench, an Administration module, and an Executive Summary application. It also has an optional Web interface. Only the Workbench is necessary to actually run the solution. We received VisionCompass preinstalled on a Compaq Computer Corp. Armada M300 running Windows NT; due to the back-end integration requirements of the product, VisionCompass customers will receive on-site assistance with their installation. But judging by the documentation, installing it should not be difficult for anyone with Windows expertise.

Choose your method

As noted earlier, VisionCompass supports various management methodologies. Whether you favour the balanced scorecard, business value of IT, MBO (management by objectives), EVA (economic value added), or even a hybrid of all of these, you can adapt VisionCompass to process data according to the method of your choice.

Moreover, VisionCompass permits interaction inside and outside your company walls by providing an interface for e-mail and forums.

Because the product supports group interaction, you can deploy it to third-party partners such as distributors and vendors. This integration with various management methods, combined with the collaboration tools, separates VisionCompass from competitors.

Implementing VisionCompass involves four steps: creating a location, setting up organizational units and users, associating users to units, and creating the necessary aspects (business initiatives).

The product displayed flexibility throughout my testing. For example, it allowed me to define different user roles to group the analyzed information, and provided “at a glance” measurements appropriate for different people within an organization. As a result, people with different skills and responsibilities can use VisionCompass profitably.

VisionCompass separates business initiatives into three categories: a public sheet for users and their managers, a private sheet for personal use, and a team sheet for groups of collaborating users.

Support libraries

The solution provides libraries containing over 7,000 industry measurements and supporting documents. I was able to access sample organization diagrams, work-result definitions, performance measures, and goals for 353 positions, in 29 functions, from 22 different industries – a real boon to ensuring accurate metrics and decreasing implementation time.

The tool also offers an easy-to-use interface. VisionCompass’ multi-paned display let me view aspects, their necessary subordinate tasks, and any specific initiative information related to them. Drilling down through information, creating new aspects, or viewing information in different formats, such as graphs or gauges, was easily accomplished via pull-down menus.

Finally, VisionCompass offers a Web interface, aptly named VisionCompass Web. Designed with the mobile user in mind, VisionCompass Web lets you access aspect sheets, enter actual values and collaborate with team members via any Web browser. I found the Web interface easier to use than the standard interface.

For non-technical staff, the VisionCompass Executive Summary offers an extremely intuitive look and feel – not unlike the old Lotus Development Corp. Organizer. Although obviously scaled back in terms of functionality, this interface lets executives quickly monitor the performance of desired aspects in an easy-to-understand, graphical dashboard.

VisionCompass is built with a logical three-tier, client/server architecture. On the back end, it is unfortunately Microsoft-centric, demanding Windows NT, Internet Information Server (IIS), SQL Server 7.0, Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Transaction Server.

Another minor drawback was that, in some cases, the help files were either incomplete or missing altogether. These failings were particularly acute when I tried to set system preferences using the Administration module.

But despite these drawbacks, VisionCompass gave a strong showing and offered enhancements to the typical BI software kit that are both unique and useful.

Fielden ([email protected]) is a senior analyst for the InfoWorld Test Center.

Review Box:

VisionCompass 2.0

Supplier: VisionCompass Inc.

Cost: US$1,550 per user for 100 seats

Platform: Client: Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT; Server: Windows 2000, Windows NT

Pros: Strong collaboration tools; support for several management methodologies; easy to use; various interfaces

Cons: Server-side components limited to Windows platform (NT, IIS, MTS, SQL Server 7); some missing help files

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