Smartsheet launches productivity dashboards

It's all about clarity. And Smartsheet's delivering visibility into work processes delivers clarity. But is it enough?

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Smartsheet is a difficult product to categorize. Part office productivity, part project management, part document sharing, Smartsheet -- despite its spreadsheet-like interface -- is trying to be the central hub for how people work.

Smartsheet, originally launched in 2006 and then relaunched in 2010, in essence combines the functions of a traditional office productivity suite -- spreadsheeting, document creation, project planning and document repository needs. Users can, via a relatively simple interface, work on documents within a project and timeline paradigm. Think of a familiar spreadsheet-like interface, alongside file sharing, workflow automation and project-planning features.

The company is today announcing what it calls Sights, a visualization tool designed to surface organizational information gleaned from the content within Smartsheet. Essentially Smartsheet is saying that giving people a business productivity tool is one thing, but that to really drive the productivity that companies talk about, the metadata within all those documents being created needs to be available to drive further insights.

Sights is essentially a visualization dashboard, kind of like iGoogle (for those who remember the drag-and-drop dashboard that Google offered a few years ago). Users can create their own layout, configure individual widgets to display particular data, and include not only information from within Smartsheet itself but also information from external sources.

This moves on from the visualization functionality introduced by Smartsheet a couple of years ago. That time, Smartsheet was focused on helping its customers to visualize the work going on with individual projects -- kind of a reinvention of the traditional approaches toward project planning and execution. At the time, I suggested that the announcement ran the risk of being seen as the "shiny new tool" for users and of little value.

My perception is that really living into the data, and mashing it up with information from other sources, Smartsheet is delivering something of value here. The company showed me some examples of the sort of dashboards that people can build. By delivering visibility over specific KPIs and giving users the ability to clearly indicate whether individual task objectives are being met or not, Smartsheet looks to be putting the productivity back into office productivity.

Of course, the sort of information that is being offered is similar to what power users of Microsoft Office could create with tools like Microsoft's Power BI. The fact that the vast majority of people use Office productivity applications merely for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations is perhaps an indication of how much real demand there is for these higher-level services.

That said, it has historically been too hard to create insights and dashboards, and there is, I suspect, a reasonably large untapped market for Smartsheet to leverage with this release.


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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