The Incredible Story of the Gantt Chart

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Most of us see Gantt Charts within computers today. Hence, it is easy to assume that they are another offshoot of the digital era. If that’s what you thought, you are in for a surprise: for here is the incredible story of the Gantt Chart that spans across an entire century!

Rewind to the United States of 1918. The First World War has just ended. Colonel John T. Thompson, the inventor of the Thompson submachine gun, receives the Distinguished Service Medal, “for exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous service with the design and production of small arms and the ammunition thereby supplied to the U.S. army.” Thompson promptly sends a copy of this to a certain ‘Henry Laurence Gantt,’ with the following note, “A large share in this reward for the accomplishment of a great war task is due to H. L. Gantt and his assistants. The Gantt general control production chart was my compass.” Henry Gantt, mechanical engineer and management consultant, had already finished developing the Gantt Chart a few years before! 

Gantt chart

The Evolution of the Gantt Chart

Moving ahead, we reach the period when America comes under the clasp of the Great Depression. The Colorado makes its way into Arizona from Nevada through an arid, desolate stretch called the Black Canyon. And at this location, to control floods and generate power, the Congress authorizes the construction of the world’s biggest and heaviest dam. Apart from the sheer scale of the endeavor, torrid desert environment, the need to use unproven techniques and the lack of facilities at the venue, present additional hurdles. Still, Six Companies Inc, a consortium of construction companies takes up this challenge and turns in the ‘Hoover Dam’ to the government two years ahead of schedule! It stands today as a monument of courage of the 21,000 men who built it and attracts about a million visitors every year. And once again, Gantt Charts are given credit for playing a key role in the management of such a massive project.

As time progresses, the charts continue to get used in one successful project after another. The areas of application are various ranging from construction to finance and shipping to administration. Personal computers emerge in the 1980s and Gantt Charts become more complex and elaborate than ever before. With the internet gaining popularity, they begin to get employed in web based applications.

ganttchart_quote

In the August of 2006, we launched Zoho Projects, our web based project management app. Taking into account the significance of the Gantt Chart, we shipped the very first version featuring one. We bear in mind that it is indeed a great journey that has brought the Gantt general control production chart of the first world war to the Gantt view that comes to you from the Zoho cloud today. And this inspires us to take the story further in interesting, new ways.

On that note, we are happy to announce that we’ve rolled out a set of new enhancements to our Gantt Chart. The Gantt view now has two charts; the one you have been viewing shows task bars sequentially and we’re calling it the ‘Chronology Chart.’ We have added a new ‘Milestone Chart’ to give you the bigger picture. You can now view your milestones, the task lists they contain, and the tasks in these; all in one place.

The only way to set dependencies between tasks was to go to the dependencies view; not any more. You can now do this right within the Gantt Chart. Just click and hold on the predecessor task bar and drag to the dependent task bar, and your dependency is set. 

You could set the period for which you viewed the chart to the current month, the previous month, the whole year or a custom period of your choice. We’ve added a new option here called ‘project span’ that  automatically displays the chart for the duration of the project.

Please view the below video for a detailed walk through of the new features. Our Getting Started Guide also has an article on Gantt Charts.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bu-BvenQpUU

UPDATE: These enhancements were well received and we have launched a newer set of updates. The Incredible Story of the Gantt Chart continues here.

References:

  1. ‘The Gantt Chart, a working tool of management,’ Wallace Clark, The Roland Press Company, 1923
  2. MegaStructures – Hoover Dam (National Geographic Documentary)
  3. Wikipedia articles on related topics (en.wikipedia.org)

Integration Between Zoho Apps: Part III

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This year we have focused a lot ​on contextual integration. This includes integration between Zoho Apps as well as integration with external apps. I want to briefly highlight some of the new integrations between Zoho Apps​ (also check Part I, Part II).

Zoho Wiki Integration with Zoho Projects

Zoho Wiki & Projects are two different types of collaboration tools. But when you have a need to collaboratively create content, then our Zoho Wiki integration with Zoho Projects can be really handy. Content can now be created in the context of the project you are working on. More details on this integration is available ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​here.

It is not about our App, It is about the User's Data and Context

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The title provides a short answer to the question: Why do we integrate with Google Apps? An important emerging theme in cloud applications is the one-page or to be more accurate the one-browser-tab approach to design – i.e contextual integration of information across applications, so that whichever app the user happens to be, it pulls relevant information from other apps, and displays it in the right context. In the traditional desktop and client-server world, data is slave to the application that created it. In the cloud, data is liberated so it can contextually go where it is the best fit. We have used this as our architectural blueprint in Zoho, as we integrate Zoho services with each other (such as our CRM & Email integration), as well as in integrating Zoho with third parties.

Take the Google Apps marketplace announcement yesterday. At that event, there were plenty of demonstrations on how contextual integration works across vendors. Notable ones include Intuit Online Payroll integration with Google Calendar, Atlassian Jira.com integration with GMail/Docs/GTalk, and of course our own Zoho CRM and Zoho Projects integration with GMail/Docs. It is fair to say that every single case of integration demonstrated at the launch even yesterday takes the cloud based ecosystem functionality ahead of where traditional enterprise systems are capable of today. Even more important, we completed our integration with Google in under 2 months, even while they were still refining their APIs. We thank the Google team once again for inviting us to be a launch partner.

Why do we want to integrate with Google Apps? The most important browser tab, in a business context, is the one dedicated to email. Given that GMail is the cloud email provider of choice by far, it is natural for Zoho to integrate our suite with GMail and Google Apps. While we agree with Marc Benioff on enterprise apps taking design inspiration from Facebook (well, not too much inspiration, we are not sure we want to go around “poking” our customers!), we would also like to point out that email is where the majority of business users spend their time. Of course, given that Salesforce has no email strategy, it is natural for them to try to redefine the market away from email and towards social networking. This is Salesforce’s third attempt at making their CRM a business app platform, but unfortunately for them, email is a far more natural starting point than CRM – we say that as a company that has a strong CRM suite. Besides, to be a real platform, you have to have a degree of openness, and our experience with Salesforce demonstrates the opposite, and sets up a direct contrast to Google’s platform approach.

Now, what exactly is contextual integration? In a nutshell, contextual integration allows for the most relevant information to surface up to the user, regardless of where that information is stored. For years, if you wanted to get information on customers, you had to go to your CRM system. If you wanted to get information on employees, you had to go to your HRIS system, if you wanted to read email, you went to your email client.

The cloud is going to fundamentally change that. With contextual integration, everything comes together – emails, calendars, documents, CRM systems, project management, HR, accounting, all of it – all from within one single tab. In this new vision, application boundaries become fluid, in fact applications in the traditional sense take the back seat, and the user’s workflow and context dominate. The benefits are enormous, both for individual business users, as well as for IT organizations. Individual users can get more done faster, with tools that get out of their way. IT organizations reap enormous productivity gains in systems integration.

That second point, systems integration, is an important one. The vast majority of IT spending goes to systems integration/professional services. It is well known in the industry that in the old software model, licensing costs represent only 20-30% of the initial cost. But in the SaaS world, we are already seeing how much easier it is to share data among different, disparate systems. This of course, doesn’t mean that system integration costs will entirely go away. In particular, enterprise customers will still need to hire professional services to connect cloud services to their more intricate, legacy systems they still have in-house. While they might not go away, we fully expect them to substantially decrease. Small and Mid-size customers will even be able to do away with them, as cloud vendors are increasingly pre-integrating each other’s systems.

I will acknowledge that contextual integration is still in its infancy, but we (by which I mean the entire cloud ecosystem) are making rapid progress. The important thing to note about cloud applications is that, in the beginning, they were just about replicating the desktop experience. Want an email program? I’ll give you one, but instead of on a desktop client, on the web. That was step one. Step two was about improving some of the features that the desktop application provided: more storage, better scalability, better security, etc. But now cloud applications go far beyond that. Contextual integration is an example of how cloud applications – Zoho’s and everyone else’s – are bringing a whole new wave of productivity and innovation.