Review: SmartDraw 2012

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SmartDraw 2012

Visualization has been a powerful organizational tool ever since the first generals began mapping out their first battle plans for the troops to understand their responsibilities during conflict. While even the best flow charts can't turn the worst battle plans into victories all by themselves, they can help one manage complexity by mapping out all the steps and tasks necessary needed to accomplish the mission.

Mapping and visualization software comes in all flavors and prices now, and can be found in organizations ranging from vast armies to small businesses. From what we've seen in the CRN Test Center over the past several years, among the best have been from SmartDraw Software, and its latest offering, SmartDraw 2012, continues to impress us with its robust nature but simple, user-friendly process of creating great charts, maps, forms and more.

List-priced at $216, SmartDraw 2012 launched earlier this Fall and includes major improvements in ease-of-use.

In particular, the latest version of this software provides a “Meeting View” designed to assist with creating fast, effective project management charts and timelines during staff meetings. Simply by entering the text of a particular assignment, its deadline and the person to whom a task is assigned – for a number of tasks throughout a project – SmartDraw will now allow you to create a Gantt Chart, graphic timeline, or organizational chart with assigned tasks – allowing a particular view with just the click of an icon.

The software developer calls this “real-time information capture with the user in mind,” and after giving it a look it's hard to disagree. This feature allows for fast creation of project management charts as easily as taking notes during a meeting. When a meeting is finished, everyone involved in a project could walk away with a chart letting them know their tasks and deadlines that very minute.

It's hard not to like an application that lets you just enter text into a word processor, while it then does the heavy lifting of creating well-designed and easy-to-read charts, timelines and mindmaps.

As with earlier versions of SmartDraw, the 2012 version provides templates for quick creation of all manner of charts, including decision treets, floor plans, marketing charts, organizational charts – even software design. The map-making feature is integrated with satellite-, street map- or hybrid-view maps for any address, and the application also provides the opportunity to create customized chart templates for a particular need.

The application also allows for export into a number of file formats, including PDFs, or applications, including Microsoft Project or Microsoft SharePoint.

SmartDraw 2012 is simply one of the best organizational and productivity applications we've seen in a long time, and will add instant value to task-oriented organizations.

The question becomes, then, whether the $216 list price on SmartDraw 2012 is competitive in a universe where free mind-mapping software is available on all platforms. Given the fact that Microsoft Visio Premium 2010 is list-priced at $999 (although it offers more robust features in certain areas and strong compatibility with Microsoft enterprise platforms), a strong argument could be made that SmartDraw 2012 provides significant value. It's an argument we accept.

SmartDraw 2012 is available to resellers through distribution, including through LifeBoat Distribution.

The bottom line: we recommend SmartDraw 2012 for deployment in any organization where quick and disciplined decision making is important, particularly where budgets may be too sensitive to pricing for the highest-end solutions.

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