Skip to content

Business Reports, Business Intelligence on a Budget, Small Medium Businesses

May 8, 2008

BASIC APPROACHES

BI solutions for small organizations fall into a number of different classes. Basically, they are ways of providing the functionality delivered by full-sized BI suites on a smaller scale. These solutions include:

  • Limited BI, based around spreadsheets or simple functionality built into office suite systems.

  • “Light” tools, often versions of larger packages designed to be used by smaller organizations, and providing a subset of the features available in the full application.

  • Open source tools. There are a number of open source tools available for BI solutions. These do tend to require added expertise in the IT department. Although the source code is free, implementation may require a consultant, and there can be unforeseen problems in integrating these solutions with existing applications.

  • Using tools that are provided with existing database systems. Major database vendors are providing an increasing amount of built-in BI functionality. Provided that all critical data is centered within a single database system, these tools may provide sufficient functionality.

  • A final and increasingly popular choice is to outsource analysis to an analytic service provider. Analytic service providers offer a variety of services, with the most popular being analytics for e-commerce, such as CRM and advertising campaign analysis.

Limited Solutions

Limited solutions are based around the analytic capabilities provided with the Microsoft Office Suite. The most important limited solution is provided by Microsoft itself. While Business Analytics has heretofore been a separate product line, Microsoft is moving toward integrating BI capabilities with the Office Suite itself. Significantly, the company has announced that it will include greater BI functionality in the upcoming version of Microsoft Office (Office 12).

The technology included will provide easy access to critical company data through tighter integration with Microsoft’s SQL Server and SharePoint. Office 12 (2006 release) will improve use of Excel spreadsheets to analyze company data by enhancing server-side analysis and dashboard options in MS SharePoint Portal and collaboration environment. Microsoft is also providing improved Office Suite integration with SQL Server 2005. New functions include greater spreadsheet capacity, improved sorting and filtering, and data-visualization capabilities. Some of the technology has already been released in Business Scorecard Manager 2005, which employs SQL Server on the back end and Office Suite on the front end.

For Microsoft, this foray into BI represents an attempt to leverage its ubiquitous Office Suite to move companies toward its backend enterprise systems. It will represent a significantly lower entry point for analytic offerings based on mass marketing. Functionality will be limited, however, and companies with existing non-Microsoft solutions may find integration difficult.

One thing that is of importance to a low-budget BI or analytic solution is to remember that spreadsheets are by far the most familiar data analysis tools for users, and Microsoft Excel is by far the most commonly used spreadsheet. While a higher end and more comprehensive solution might yield to this preference by providing an interface through which spreadsheet data can be transferred to and from the system, a budget solution should look at focusing upon the spreadsheet itself. This means selecting a tool that is compatible with the Microsoft Windows environment in most cases.

Spreadsheet capabilities today include most of the capabilities that will be required in analysis of small data sets, and should not be overlooked as the basis for an analytic solution. Graphing solutions can also be provided in a visible and immediately updateable format, either through the spreadsheet package itself or through complementary applications. In the spreadsheet-based approach, however, it is extremely important to guard against development of multiple versions of the truth. This can be remedied through a combination of technology and business practices; data used in analysis must come from a single source, analyzed data that is to be re-used must be updateable, and information ownership needs to be established. Otherwise, it is possible for all managers to develop their own spreadsheets using different figures, and these spreadsheets will be unable to be reconciled.

Light Offerings

Light offerings are available from a number of vendors and offer lower levels of functionality than complete BI systems, but more capability than a simple extension of the Office Suite. These products include reduced functionality versions of larger offerings, specially built standalone systems, and systems tied to financial or database applications.

The recently released IBM Workplace for Business Strategy Execution is designed to provide a light BI offering for desktop use. It draws from technologies available through IBM’s Workplace collaboration and portal software framework. It brings together collaboration tools, search, portal technologies, and document management to provide a BI look and feel, with dashboard analytics and views of data pulled from Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft data warehouses. It is designed for use on everyone’s desktop, rather than being limited to managers.

BizTools BI Lite provides Key Performance Indicator (KPI) scorecarding and visualizations in an integrated package designed for small business owners, managers, and accountants. It provides low cost capability to update, monitor, and scorecard the most important KPIs at a glance. It gathers, consolidates, and presents data graphically as organized information that lets managers see the “big picture.” By integrating with QuickBooks, it offers SMEs some of the analytical tools and techniques used by enterprises to continually monitor their business performance without the high cost and complexity normally expected with these solutions.

SDG Computing, Inc. provides CubeSlice, a low-cost BI tool that helps bring Microsoft’s OLAP technology to all the users in an organization. CubeSlice provides a low cost solution with a simple, easy-to-use interface that delivers multidimensional analysis through a set of views that can be delivered to all users. It provides full integration with Microsoft Excel, the Microsoft Office Web Components, Microsoft SQL Server, and Microsoft Analysis Services, and offers full support of online and offline browsing of multidimensional data. It also provides the ability to create a customized set of data for each user.

There are a number of “light” BI products available, and more if limited implementations of standard systems are included. The main problem with these will be scalability and extensibility. In other words, is the BI solution capable of growing as the business grows, or will it require a costly replacement? Also, is it capable of being extended beyond a narrow area of implementation as the benefits of analytics create needs in other areas of the organization?

Open Source

There are a number of open-source solutions available, most running on the Linux platform. The main open-source databases are MySQL and Postgres, with MySQL being the preferred system for analytics and integration projects. These are joined with a number of Java and XML-based tools to fill out open-source BI suites.

ETL tools that bring data into the database exist in open source mainly as Java applets providing transformations based on XML. There is a wide range available according to the specific problem to be solved.

For analysis, the leading open-source tool is Mondrian, which provides OLAP capability. Reporting and query tools are also available as Java applets, one of the most interesting of which is JPivot, which works with Mondrian as well as with other OLAP servers. JPivot is part of the Eclipse BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools) project, an open-source development initiative led by BI vendor Actuate.

BIRT is an open-source, Eclipse-based reporting system that integrates with applications to produce reports in both Web and PDF format. BIRT provides core reporting features, such as report layout, data access, and scripting. BIRT has two main components: a report designer based on Eclipse, and a runtime component that can be added to an application server. BIRT also offers a charting engine. It is built on the open source Eclipse platform. Eclipse (Eclipse.org) is an open-source software development project dedicated to providing a robust, full-featured, commercial-quality, industry platform for the development of highly integrated tools. The Eclipse Platform is designed for building integrated development environments (IDEs) that can be used to create diverse Java and C++ based applications.

Actuate Corporation provides Actuate BIRT, the commercial version of the Eclipse BIRT project. It is now MySQL Network-Certified and a recommended reporting and analytics component of a MySQL Data Warehouse Scale-Out Solution Set. Actuate BIRT provides MySQL Network users with the ability to cost-effectively deploy enterprise database-driven reports to a wider audience. Actuate BIRT delivers functionality that is identical to the Eclipse BIRT project, its Open Source Eclipse Public License (EPL) equivalent. In addition, as MySQL Network Certified, Actuate BIRT is compatible with the MySQL Pro database server product and MySQL software tools. Actuate BIRT includes reporting and charting offerings that are immediately available on an annual subscription pricing basis.

Pentaho, another open-source BI project, is using BIRT reporting tools in its own framework. The Pentaho approach is also based on Eclipse, and provides enhancements to Mondrian, a dashboard component, data mining, reporting, workflow, and a business framework (including a business rules engine and document repository).

JasperSoft is also offering an open-source BI variant, though it is more limited than Pentaho and is offered under a curious “commercial open-source” license.

Implementation of an open source solution may begin with relatively low cost due to the availability of “free” source code, but it can turn into an adventure. Usability almost always turns upon the capabilities of internal data processing departments, or of consultant-engineered vertical market solutions that provide a close fit to the business concerned. Additional programming will almost always be required to fit the solution to the business, and some of it can be complex. Maintenance issues are also likely to arise over the life of the solution, and the original developer may not always be available. However, some small businesses, particularly in technology areas, do have substantial IT and programming skills available, and for them open source may provide a convenient and low cost option for creating a customized BI solution.

It should also be noted that an increasing number of mainstream BI applications and database systems have migrated to Linux, largely from the proprietary UNIX world. However, these are not open source solutions in themselves.

Database Tools

The major database suppliers also provide BI functionality that is designed to work with their database systems. Although this functionality is often somewhat limited, it may provide all that is necessary — particularly in cases where the need for application integration is limited. Database tools provide a number of specific advantages:

  • Familiarity. Users are already familiar with the basic look and feel of the database, so learning how to use these included tools should require little training.

  • Low cost. These tools are either included with the database purchase itself or available as part of a combined package.

  • Ready integration. The database system is already integrated into the company environment. For ERP solutions, it may in fact include all of the data that is reasonably subject to BI.

  • In-place support. Since it is part of the database, support relationships are already developed.

The major disadvantages of this approach are that it can prove expensive if elements need to be drawn into the database. It also may not provide the full suite of analytics required and there may be better vertical-market oriented solutions available.

Microsoft

Microsoft’s Database-linked BI strategy for its SQL Server 2005 products is designed to integrate BI functions that were previously found in the separately available Analysis packages. In SQL Server 2005, the SQL Server relational database, DTS, Reporting Services and Analysis Services are greatly improved. New functionality, such as Business Intelligence Development Studio and SQL Server Management Studio, further extend the Microsoft BI platform.

BI-related tasks are performed by the following services

  • Data Transformation Services (DTS): ETL

  • SQL Server 2005 Database: relational data warehouse

  • SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services: multidimensional database

  • SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services: data mining

  • SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services: managed reporting

  • Microsoft Office Suite: ad hoc query and analysis

  • SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence Development Studio: database development tools

  • SQL Server 2005 SQL Server Management Studio: database management tools

IBM

IBM DB2 database system BI extensions are numerous. In fact, BI has been cited as the premiere driver of DB2 sales. IBM solutions range from department-level data marts — for specialized functions such as sales or financial analysis — to massive enterprise data warehouses scaling into petabytes.

DB2 Data Warehouse Edition provides a point of focus in the BI space. Data Warehouse Edition is the flagship product in the DB2 information management software family, extending DB2 Universal Database with advanced BI features for building and working with data warehouses and data marts. DB2 has significant BI functionality. On top of this functionality, Data Warehouse Edition features include:

  • A powerful ETL subsystem with over 150 transformations.

  • Embedded OLAP awareness to boost OLAP query and cube generation performance, regardless of which OLAP tool is being used.

  • Advanced data mining functionality, including modeling, visualization, and scoring.

  • Resource management to monitor and preemptively manage query submission and database usage.

  • A simple GUI-based process that enables information in an Excel spreadsheet to be transferred seamlessly to multiple databases.

The DB2 OLAP Server delivers analytic applications for fast, intuitive multidimensional analysis. DB2 Information Integrator V8.1 provides integrated, real-time access to diverse data as if it were a single database, regardless of where it resides. Query Management Facility is a tightly integrated, powerful, and reliable query and reporting tool set for the DB2 relational database management system.

IBM DB2 Warehouse Manager provides a distributed, heterogeneous infrastructure for designing, building, maintaining, governing, and accessing scalable, robust DB2 data warehouses. It includes commonly used, pre-built data cleansing and statistical transformations. There is also a low-cost, easy-to-use reporting tool for Windows and Web reporting available. The DB2 UDB Data Warehouse Standard Edition is a complete data mart infrastructure product that includes DB2, integrated OLAP, advanced data mining, and ETL, and provides light BI for the desktop.

Oracle

Oracle’s database-cantered BI offering is Oracle Database 10g, which is designed to be deployed on everything from small servers to big SMP servers, and from clusters to enterprise grids. It features automated tuning and management capabilities that make it easy and cost effective to operate. Its ability to natively manage all data from traditional business information to OLAP, XML documents, and spatial/location information make it a good choice to power OLTP, BI, data warehousing, and content management applications.

Oracle Business Intelligence provides a unified business view, permitting synchronization of information centrally, from all systems throughout the enterprise to provide an accurate view, regardless of where the data resides. Solutions are designed to deliver the right information, to the right person, at the right time, permitting managers to quickly respond to changes in the business environment and make optimal business decisions. Oracle ensures that BI applications are always available, scalable, and secure through its Grid technology. It provides an end-to-end, comprehensive, analysis-ready platform featuring a single, pre-integrated BI infrastructure for managing, accessing, and analyzing all business data. By providing an open BI infrastructure, BI solutions can be deployed that integrate seamlessly into the existing environment and protect existing IT investments.

Analytic tools included are:

  • Query and reporting to provide end users with easy to use, self-service access to information stored in data marts, data warehouses, and OLTP.

  • OLAP to support the full spectrum of advanced analytical applications, including sales and marketing, planning and budgeting, and profitability analysis.

  • Data mining to identify hidden trends and patterns in large volumes of corporate data.

Oracle provides for advanced analytics, such as OLAP and data mining, by integrating these capabilities into the Oracle Database. Business users get instant intelligence because the analytics engine resides within the database. The solution provides up-to-date performance metrics, financial ratios, profit and loss summaries, and other types of information that roll up across all departments, products, and geographies.

Analytic Service Providers

One possibility for low-budget BI operation is to outsource all or some of the function to an analytic service provider (ASP). ASPs can offer a wide variety of services, from data loading and management to reporting and analysis. In addition to handling the technology implementation, they can provide advanced services, leveraging knowledge from experience with numerous clients in a particular industry or environment. This is of particular importance to the small business that may not have trained analysts on staff, or may suffer from a narrow view of its environment imposed by lack of a sufficiently broad sampling of data. Using an outsourced solution provides a number of advantages:

  • Expertise. Complete data warehousing solutions require special skill sets in implementation and maintenance. It may not pay to acquire this expertise for a small-scale application, even on an ad hoc consultancy basis.

  • Capital investment. A full on data warehousing solution can be extremely expensive to develop and integrate with existing applications. In addition to software, it will require hardware, services, coding, and maintenance.

  • Analytical expertise. Even supposing an adequate technical solution, the statistical skill to make best use of analytic capabilities and to design the best analytic data display for management may be unavailable.

  • Data set size. In a smaller organization, the existing data set may be insufficient to yield good analytic results, and could be improved by being combined with data and expertise from the industry sector.

Main categories of service offered by ASPs are Web analytics, CRM, and full-service BI outsourcing. There are also ASPs specializing in analytics for specific vertical markets, such as the food industry or pharmaceuticals. Web analytics is the largest category due to the large amount of information that may be gathered from online purchasing and pay-per-click advertising.

Issues of importance to consider with outsourcing analytic processes include potential limited capability, poor fit between back-office systems and data presentation, time and service issues in delivering analysis, and security. For a full service ASP, it may be necessary to upload large amounts of data to ASP servers, which could result in networking and security issues.

Some Analytic Service Providers are listed in Table 1.

Table 1: Analytic Service Providers

Company

Outsourced Solution

Description

Offering Type

Accenture www.accenture.com

Business Objects Alliance

End-to-end BI enterprise performance management solutions.

Full Service

Appian Analytics www.appiananalytics.com

Appian Analytic Database Hosting

Outsourced database management and hosting. Offers data query, reporting, OLAP, data mining with ETL, and data cleansing.

Full Service

Confluent Technologies www.confluenttech.com

ConfluentlQ

BI and knowledge management solution. Extracts and synchronizes data from existing SQL, Oracle, or other ODBC data sources. Data is stored within Confluent’s servers.

Full Service

Coremetrics www.coremetrics.com

Coremetrics Online Analytics

Industry-specific applications. Designed to meet the analytical needs of executives, marketers, merchandisers, site designers, and IT organizations.

Web Analytics

eLoyalty www.interelate.com

eLoyalty (acquired Interelate in 2004)

Offers hosted data and campaign management solutions regulation.

CRM

Harte-Hanks www.harte-hanks.com

Allink Suite

Captures customer data via the Web and analyzes it in real time.

Web Analytics

IBM Corporation www.ibm.com

SurfAid Analytics

Helps Web site owners optimize their Web site and increase conversions.

Web Analytics

i-Knowledge www.j-knowledge.com

Hosted Business Intelligence

Real-time BI in the form of executive dashboards, OLAP, and customized reports.

Full Service

Instill www.instill.com

Data & Analysis Solution

A hosted BI solution for the food service industry.

Full Service (Niche Market)

Kinetic Networks www.kineticnetworks.com

iFusion Marketing

Helps better understand and target customers.

CRM#

Kognitio www.kognitio.com

Kognitio Managed Services

Data warehouse and BI capability for financial services and telecommunications operations in the UK.

Full Service

MyBalancedScorecard.com www.mybalancedscorecard.com

ActiveStrategy Online

Automates each phase of the strategy execution process. ASP offering also available.

Partial/ Niche Offering

Omniture www.omniture.com

SiteCatalyst

Online marketing intelligence.

Web Analytics

Questerra www.guesterra.com

Solution Services

Spatial-enabled BI for insurance, finance, government, etc.

Partial/ Niche Offering

SageMetrics www.sagemetrics.com

SageAnalyst

Behavioral targeting and Web analytics solution. Optimizes online marketing.

Web Analytics

Salesforce.com www.salesforce.com

Sforce Services

On-demand CRM.

CRM

SAS Institute www.sas.com

SAS Web Analytics

CRM with SAS’ analytic intelligence.

Web Analytics

SeaTab Software www.seatab.com

PivotLink

A hosted BI solution.

Full Service

The Modeling Agency www.the-modeling-agency.com

Data Mining/Predictive Modeling

Data mining and predictive modeling, with outsourced analytic services.

Partial/Niche Offering

VitalSpring Technologies www.vitalspring.com

VitalSpring for BENEFITS and VitalSpring for FINANCE

Visibility into all metrics related to the health benefits supply chain.

Partial/Niche Offering

VNU Marketing Information www.vnu.com

CBI-Continuous Business Intelligence

Allows consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies to continually monitor the health of their businesses, optimize their marketing investments.

Full Service (Niche Market)

WebSideStory www.websidestory.com

WebSideStory

On-demand Web analytics for optimizing online business performance.

Web Analytics

WebtrafflQ www.webtraffig.com

WebtrafflQ

Campaign-tracking platform.

Web Analytics

Advertisements
7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2008 6:13 pm

    Your readers may also be interested to learn more about LucidEra. LucidEra is breaking down the traditional barriers to business intelligence adoption by delivering business analytics as an on-demand service. LucidEra customers are no longer flying blind when it comes to pipeline visibility and achieving new levels of sales success thanks to dynamic reporting and analysis that is simple to set up, simple to use, and simple to buy.

  2. May 9, 2008 7:12 pm

    One quick point about Kognitio: while you have listed the company as a managed service provider, Kognitio’s WX2 database can be licensed in any of three formats: either as software-only, as an appliance or on an outsourced basis, as what Kognitio calls Data Warehousing as a Service (DaaS™).

    It’s the final option that’s attracted more attention, since it’s aimed at firms that want to get answers quickly without having to necessarily commit to building out a BI infrastructure. More than half of Kognitio’s customers in the UK and US are using DaaS at this time.

  3. May 12, 2008 5:38 am

    I’m afraid your description of JasperSoft is woefully incomplete. JasperSoft offers the most widely-deployed BI software in the world, through its complete BI Suite. While best known for JasperReports (a full-featured Java reporting library), the JasperSoft BI Suite includes iReport (a leading graphical report-building environment), JasperServer (full-featured report server, including repository, security, scheduling, and ad hoc dashboard design), JasperAnalysis (scalable, server-based multi-dimensional analytics), and JasperETL (data integration for data mart and datawarehouse construction, primarily for use with JasperAnalysis). These JasperSoft products, collectively, have been downloaded more than 3 million times and are in production use at more than 80,000 deployments in 96 countries. JasperSoft offers its products through open source licenses (all GPL, except for JasperReports which is LGPL) as well as commercial licenses – which is both common and standard (not curious) among open source vendors.

    I hope this helps provide your readers with accurate information on JasperSoft and its products.

  4. June 11, 2008 1:20 pm

    Thanks for the mention of BIRT and Actuate and for putting quite a comprehensive list of Business Intelligence options together. In addition to the Actuate BIRT Designer, you can also find another commercial product from Actuate related to BIRT. The Actuate iServer Express securely delivers and schedules BIRT reports and allows for greater end-user interactivity in an enterprise deployment.

    Actuate also offers a solution that can help with some of the Excel issues mentioned above. The e.Spreadsheet Designer can create fully functional Excel spreadsheets from your data source. The Designer is easy to use and actually free for desktop usage. These spreadsheet designs can be automated by developers in a Java environment (no Windows environment required) or deployed on the same iServer Express mentioned above so can be scheduled, secured, delivered by email, etc.

    Download trials from http://www.birt-exchange.com

Trackbacks

  1. complex application hosting service uk
  2. advantages and disadvantages of warehouse
  3. oracle database maintenance metrics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: