by March 1, 2000 0 comments

The Digital Dashboard is a knowledge management
solution from Microsoft. It’s an interface that resides in Outlook 2000 and integrates information from various back-end resources. The information could come from any Microsoft application like SQL server, Exchange, or Office 2000. So, you could have a discussion forum for team members, the latest sales information from a back-end database, or a selection of presentations in Outlook 2000. 

There’s no out-of-the-box Dashboard that you can install and get going. Instead, there’s a starter kit that contains some tools, tutorials, and sample Dashboards to get you started. It comes as an 11 MB executable file that can be freely downloaded from Microsoft’s Website.

Installing the Dashboard starter kit is easy. It creates a shortcut on your desktop that opens its documentation in a Web browser. You can also launch the Dashboard samples from here. System requirements aren’t too high either. If your system supports Office 2000, it can handle Dashboard as well. We managed to run it well on a P/100 with 32 MB RAM. However, before installing the starter kit, you must have Outlook 2000 on your machine. Outlook 2000 is an e-mail client as well as a personal information manager. It has components to manage your meetings, appointments, task scheduling, etc. The machine could be running either Win 9x or NT. 

Dashboard uses Outlook as the front- end for clients. Outlook displays its contents in the form of a Web page, be it appointments, calendar, tasks, etc. Dashboard uses this capability, and ActiveX controls and scripts to gather information from various sources and display them within Outlook. 

The Digital Dashboard starter kit has some tools to help you customize Outlook. For example, a tool–which is essentially a COM add-in–lets you customize Outlook’s default Web page. It adds itself as a menu item in the Outlook toolbar. You can also create your own Web page from scratch and replace the default one. Other tools include various nuggets like a stock ticker that gives you daily stock quotes, a weather component to determine the weather forecast from the Web, and so on. There’s a Web search component too. Not only that, you can also have your regular Outlook components like inbox, calendar, tasks, etc, on your Dashboard. 

Information on the Dashboard can come from any source–be it e-mail, the Web, database, an office application like PowerPoint, etc. The documentation in the starter kit also talks about how to link Dashboard to various MS applications like SQL server, Excel, etc. You can also link a folder containing documents like presentations, white papers, etc. Office 2000 also comes with some Web development components that help make these linkages. One such component is a tool that converts Excel spreadsheets and Word documents to HTML. 

A Digital Dashboard can be as simple as a Web page displaying something from the Web. But then that’s what company intranets are for. The real use of the Dashboard would come if it collects the right information and displays it from various resources such as spreadsheets, databases, etc. This is where customization needs to be done. The Dashboard lets you link a Web page through a Web server, or from the local machine. So you could, for example, put Web pages for different divisions within your organization. The sales team could have a Web page with links to the latest sales information. The project team might have a discussion forum, exclusive to the team members. All Web pages could also have public folders where common information is shared. Then of course, each individual would have access to his own personal calendar, appointments, etc–the regular features in Outlook. 

Microsoft Digital Dashboard Starter Kit
Knowledge management solution.
Features: Tools to customize Outlook Web pages.
Pros: Very good samples and excellent documentation.
Cons: Uses only Microsoft applications 
as back-end.
11 MB file freely downloadable from

What you can do with the Dashboard is limited only by the level of customization you want and the amount you’re willing to invest in it. It does require a lot of development effort, which requires more than knowledge of HTML. Not only that, you also need other Microsoft applications besides Office 2000 if you want to use its full potential. This would include SQL Server for the back-end database, Exchange Server for messaging and public folders, etc. Essentially, you would need all Microsoft applications in the back-end for full functionality. This would be a problem for organizations using other applications in the back-end for mail and databases.

So, before implementing such a Dashboard, you must plan as to the kind of information that will be useful to your employees. This is more important and must be done before the actual development. You also have to decide which employees would really benefit from the Dashboard. 

The Dashboard is a good concept, but it has to be backed by proper planning and a good knowledge management strategy. Otherwise, it would be just another interface that provides information that’s as clear as mud.

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