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July 8, 2008

Implementing Heatmaps in the Real World

Currently Heatmaps are widely used in science and the financial sector. Heat maps are an excellent way to visualise data, the reader instinctively knows what the information means.

To illustrate this by example, these Heatmaps are used on various financial and stock market Web sites. Nasdaq.com and SmartMoney.com both use heat maps to show stock price and various market sector performance at-a-glance.

Visitors to these sites can mouse over or drill down to get further details about a stock’s current performance.

Currently finding tools to support the effective delivery of heratmaps as part of your business intelligence solution is far from easy.

Outside of specialist tools or alternatively pure graphics packages, the software world is being quite slow to facilitate the widespread adoption of the heatmap as an analytical tool. This is probably best illustrated by the inclusion of just the most basic Heatmap functionality in Microsoft Office 2007, which, while a good start and ahead of the pack in terms of delivering heat maps more widely, will need a few more iterations before this can help provide effective analytics. LogiXML have shown the vision and foresight to embed heatmaps in all of their reporting tools

In a world accustomed to pie charts and 3 dimensional bar charts, which are less effective in the real world than in the product demonstration, this makes a refreshing change.

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Posted by Steve Greaves at 3:45 AM | Comments (0)

July 4, 2008

Breaking out of the OLAP Lock Box

For many years OLAP cubes have been the mainstay of the most successful business intelligence offerings. OLAP offered almost instant access to the key business measures at the key ‘pulse points’ which determine the success or failure of your business, these can then be intuitively analysed according to the ‘business dimensions’ defined.

OLAP offered speed of response and business friendly information, when compared to ‘query by example’ offerings which were little more than simplified SQL the ability to analyse business performance and drill further into the detail to determine the root cause of good or bad performance at the macro level could add immediate value to any business.

The massive value add of OLAP technology encouraged a proprietary approach to the storage and access of data which inhibited the spread of OLAP based solutions, as a result these became the preserve of specialists rather than becoming fully embedded in the business.

The development and promotion of the OLE DB for OLAP standard represented the first step of many required to open up OLAP to allow it to become simply another source of data to be consumed by the myriad of available tools. However adoption was not widespread and many end user tools remain firmly based on the ODBC standards.

The convergence of Business Intelligence data and XML, which is expressed in the XML for Analysis standard (XML/A), makes the prospect of seamlessly integrating OLAP data into standard business reporting a viable prospect.

Conventionally integrating the information held in OLAP cubes, even those which conform to the existing standards, requires specialised tools or advanced skills (MDX, COM etc.). XML/A offers a way to quickly and easily integrate OLAP data from any of these providers into your existing reporting environment:

- Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services (MSAS)
- SAP BW Infocubes
- Hyperion’s Essbase

The key benefit of OLAP analysis to a business is the ability to quickly analyse information over time and according to a set of pre-defined business dimensions. This delivers focused value added information directly to business users.

Evolving standards may soon make the original promise of OLAP a reality for all.

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Posted by Steve Greaves at 4:15 AM | Comments (0)

July 3, 2008

The Evolving BI Landscape

The BI Market is consolidating and continuing to evolve at considerable speed. The recent wave of acquisitions has resulted in 3 broad market categories:

1. Vertical Applications
2. Niche Value/Best of Breed Applications
3. Technology Platforms

The Vertical Applications market is evenly split between Oracle and SAP, both companies have acquired a multiplicity of BI tools and technologies and are focused on extending the value of the core applications offering.

Examples of niche/best of breed applications would be the newly emerging Qlikview or the Logi9 BI platform from LogiXML in the Reporting and Analytics space or Teradata/Netezza/Vertica in the high performance data warehouse space. Some of these products are new some have been around for a while and serve a particular niche well.

The third category Technology Platforms is dominated by IBM and Microsoft, both of these companies provide a complete ‘Information Server’ platform which can be used to source, package and deliver information to a multiplicity of different users.

Evolving in parallel to these 3 market categories is the open source BI movement, however despite offering a wide range of functionality at a compelling cost in terms of software acquisition. The costs which will be incurred over the full lifecycle of the solution are still far from understood.

However there appears to be a general reluctance among users of these platforms to deliver the end to end solution entirely from one vendor. The acquisition of the de-facto standard in enterprise reporting, Cognos 8, by IBM will definitely put this to the test.

Microsoft actively promotes both it’s own desktop/intranet focused tools and provides the platform for many niche players.

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Posted by Steve Greaves at 4:30 AM | Comments (0)