This post follows up on my previous post in which ad hoc reporting was defined. To wrap things up, the most important features were:
- Iterative processing of the entire BI-development cycle
- Performed by end-users
- On a mix of data sources
- With some kind of manual intervention, somewhere in the process
Now that we know what we’re talking about, we can much better define the requirements for supporting technology (finally we get to the tools!). Rephrasing the features into requirements results in the following list:
- Support for the entire process (from ETL to reporting building and distribution)
- Ease of use: the end-user is the designated user of a BI-solution, not an experience software engineer!
- Statistics & usage monitoring: some sort of monitoring by IT-staff / BICC is necessary to keep an eye on what’s going on.
- Security and authorization, e.g. to define roles who’s allowed to map new data sources.
- Level of integration with the core BI-platform that is used within the enterprise for bulk reporting, pre-defined OLAP-cubes etc.
(Obvious requirements like maintainability etc. are left out-of-scope here).
Probably the most difficult requirement is the last one, level of integration. Let me explain this one. Most mature BI-organizations have consolidated their BI-stack and most of the time chosen for one particular vendor (BO, Cognos, whatever). Current platforms are able to cover a broad range of capabilities, like plain reporting, dashboarding, OLAP etc. The set-up of such an environment is done in the metadata where data sources are mapped to objects that can be used in BI-applications (in SAS these are the information maps, in BO the universe, in MicroStrategy the schema objects to name a few examples). Now here’s the key: this mapping of data sources to (common) objects, is nearly always done based on requirements, design and specifications and done by a BI-developer. Creating accurately defined meta data objects is a key activity to realize a common BI environment with shared definitions.
In the case of ad hoc, ideally the end-user is both able to reuse common metadata that is centrally defined and governed and add new data sources at will which he wants to use for analysis purposes. From a technological point-of-view, the end-user should be equipped with specific functionality designed for his purposes and context and not with the full installation of the client software which is often used by the BICC or BI-developer (apart from license issues). I know this is a difficult one, I hope you can follow me here.
OK, now we get to the vendors! Until recently, to my knowledge SAS’ Enterprise Guide was the only one the market that was able to fulfill this requirement. Fortunately, there’s been a lot of movement lately and some new alternatives seem to be on the horizon. One is MicroSoft’s Gemini solution (see Jorgen’s comment on this one), the other is the announcement this week of MicroStrategy 9 which includes a multi-source option and better self-service capabilities. Please let me know if any of you have seen these products and whether they are able to fulfill the requirements for ad hoc reporting.