Product review: Pilot refines decision support

Executives looking for ways to better understand and help their companies evolve should consider implementing a balanced scorecard. By enabling you to view information and quickly analyse data, Pilot Software's Pilot Balanced Scorecard 6.2, beta, can serve as a key enabler to businesses searching for a competitive edge.

Although numerous online analytical processing tool vendors offer executive information system (EIS) products like this, few can match the functionality that Pilot delivers. Originally developed by a Scandinavian partner company, the product has been added to Pilot Software's Decision Support Suite. Although the tool is limited to models created with Pilot's Designer product, it provides a highly effective way to implement an EIS-based balanced scorecard.

As mentioned in the box at right, creating a balanced scorecard involves several disparate efforts, including developing a strategy, determining meaningful metrics that model the strategy, and monitoring and refining the execution of the strategy via metrics and targets. Although large consulting companies usually perform the first steps, Pilot's software helps users tackle the last phase wherein metrics are monitored and refined.

By comparing the actual operating data against the targets defined in earlier processes, Pilot provides a broad picture of your organization's performance, allowing executives to focus on the future and not just on historical information.

Pilot's interface consisted of a two-paned window, with the right panel containing the four perspectives specific to balanced scorecards: customer, financial, internal processes, and learning and growth. Within each of these perspectives, a well-implemented dashboard metaphor with a speedometer icon displayed the relative performance of each indicator, enabling me to easily read and interpret the data represented.

The speedometer contained not only the gauge for displaying performance, but also a series of colored arrows. I was able to quickly determine that yellow arrows represented a measurement of the performance vs. the moving average of the previous year, while the red arrows represented cause-and-effect relationships.

Using only the elements on the right side of the window, I was able to look at and perform drill-down analysis from each of my predetermined key performance indicators by dragging the indicator onto the second portion of the screen. The second panel provided the ability to look at trend, deviation, and benchmarking.

In order to look at a variety of the product's features, I changed the speedometer's dimensions, and switched to a table view of the data. When I dragged each of the indicators onto the respective actions, each of the actions brought me to a common tabbed window from which to change perspectives on my indicators. In a matter of minutes, I was able to quickly work my way through the application.

During my tests, I ran into a database authority problem and had to seek help from Pilot's technical support department. The company expects to iron out this issue prior to release.

The installation process also proved problematic. When I loaded the first CD, I received an error stating that a previous version was required to upgrade. I installed the Designer portion of the product from the second CD, but on starting the application, I immediately encountered problems. Reinstalling the product in its entirety corrected the situation.

These prerelease glitches notwithstanding, I recommend checking out Pilot Balanced Scorecard 6.2, beta, bearing in mind that you must rely on Pilot's Designer component to create the models. Based on a proven methodology, this product could provide a significant return on investment.

Tim Fielden (tim_fielden@infoworld.com) is a senior technology analyst at InfoWorld.

THE BOTTOM LINE: BETA

Pilot Balanced Scorecard 6.2, beta

Summary: This prerelease candidate, although slightly buggy, provides a tremendous opportunity for company executives to make well-informed business decisions in conjunction with an overall balanced-scorecard strategy.

Business Case: Although initial costs can be significant, executives hoping to gain a competitive market advantage will find that Pilot Balanced Scorecard helps balance short-and long-term objectives.

Pros:

+ Easy-to-use graphical environment

+ Fast analysis of data

Cons:

- Buggy installation program

- Limited to metrics created with Pilot Designer softwareCost: $US37,500 for 10 users; VAR discounts availablePlatform(s): Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Solaris 2.6, AIX, HP-UX 11Shipping: Dec. 1999Pilot Software Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts; +1-800-944-0094; http://www.pilotsw.com

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