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March 21, 2010

BI Visualization Matters

Visualization of data matters in BI. There is now an expectation by business system stakeholders that BI is finally moving beyond just the realm of "reporting" and that a BI solution will provide value to the business with easy ways to find root-cause, manage by exception and to report on the state of the business. But you must not set the expectation that the business users need to have PhDs nor should they need to be statisticians. At Microsoft, the PerformancePoint GM used to call this "BI for the Masses". Here at Oracle, I'm referring to this in the domain that I work in currently (PPM) simply as "knowledge tools for the decision maker".

I had written quite a bit about the business value of visualizing business intelligence, trends, history and scorecards in a compelling way with MSDN here. If you search on the blog, you can see my examples of using Silverlight for BI dashboards to provide a more interactive and exciting experience for decision-makers. I also put an example of using Tufte's Sparklines in Excel. Let us all not forget the power of using Excel for uncovering business data trends and for making excellent decisions!

And I want to come back to this as I am completing work on a project that is wrapping up where we are releasing a new earned value and project performance pre-built BI application for Oracle's Primavera product line.

Let me give you an example of 2 of my favorite BI visualization packages below. First is Crystal Xcelsius as used by solverUSA and second is Tableau.

Yes these are very busy and dog & pony-show style for the dashboard UI vendors. But what I particularly find appealing about Tableau is that they remain an ISV in the BI space where Outlooksoft, Proclarity, Applix, etc. got scarfed up, they keep on cruising and are very easy to use.

And then Crystal has done a very nice job of capturing the idea of easy-on-the-eyes compelling visualizations while also making it easy to consume, particularly with their inclusion of knobs & dials to tweak values in a what-if simulation environment.

Alright, so that all being said and introduced, let me sum things thing up with a quick list of 3 high-level aspirations that your BI solutions should ensure is baked into your UI, regardless of who or what you use for your visualization:

1. All reports have actions associated: drill-thru, drill-down, drill-up, jump to URL, etc.

2. All dashboard pages have 1 or more filters that control the perspectives & slicers for all reports on the page.

3. Real-time simulations should be included on dashboards for user interaction and what-if scenario planning.

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