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March 8, 2009

The Most Useful Reporting Tools in BI

Here's a quick list of the most useful reporting tools in business intelligence.

1 - The data table. At its most basic, this reporting tool presents a series of columns--for instance, showing order numbers, quantity, salesmen's names, customer names and customer address. The data table, of course, becomes more useful when the columns are sortable, and can get even more sophisticated when data groupings are performed.

2 - The cross-tab table. This is essentially the same tool as the data table, with the addition of a series of rows that determines the first dimension of the table. In our example above, a cross-tab table would (for instance) have rows on the left each corresponding to a salesman's name. For each salesman, the columns would display order number, quanity, customer name and customer address.

3 - The pie, bar and/or line charts. As far as reporting tools go, these may sound quite basic. However, their usefulness should not be taken for granted. A pie chart is great to show percentage distributions, and it is more impactful with a moderate number of "slices" (or else it can become confusing). The bar chart is generally used either to compare discrete quantities (e.g. showing salesmen on the X axis and their sales on the Y axis) or to track a moving quantity overtime (e.g. showing years on the X axis and total sales on the Y axis). The line chart is a similar reporting tool as the last example of use of the bar chart.

In the race to produce newer, swankier BI features, vendors should always consider that these basic reporting tools are often the ones on which users base the highest number of their decisions (which is why Excel is still so popular).

Posted by Hound of the BI-skervilles at March 8, 2009 2:15 PM


Excel is still popular because it gives the user a lot of freedom in reporting, but some say that each spreadsheet contains at least one error. For an overview of reporting tools one can surf to, Excel is here as reporting tool included with SQL Server Analysis Services as foundation.

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