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Bringing analytics to the corporate masses

Many organizations yearning to get their feet wet with custom
analytic applications are running into problems caused by a lack
of necessary Java and JavaScript resources.

That problem led analytics software company Alphablox Corp. to
take a do-it-yourself (or, more accurately, a 'let-them-do-it-
themselves') approach with the latest version of its Alphablox
development platform, which works with multiple vendors' application
servers to create J2EE-based analytic applications. The new 4.1
release of Alphabox contains a toolkit that officials say can help
business analysts with no programming experience create basic
reporting and data access applications.

By broadening the spectrum of people who can build these basic
applications, companies can get them up and running and out to the
end users more quickly, says Carol Ewton, senior product manager for
the Mountain View, Calif., firm.

Called Blox Palette, the open standards toolkit is an add-in to
Macromedia’s Dreamweaver MX software for creating Web sites.
Dreamweaver contains a palette for basic HTML elements; the toolkit
offers a palette for presentation and data analysis components, or
Blox. The business analyst developer drags and drops the HTML and
Alphablox elements from the palettes to the page, creating queries
and choosing data access sources with the help of a wizard.

To build an application, a non-programmer must have basic HTML skills,
be comfortable with wizards and understand the underlying data cubes
in offerings such as Hyperion Essbase. The only assistance they might
need is to have an IT person hook them up to the Alphablox server,
where pages are deployed so they can be rendered over the Internet.

According to Ewton, a typical non-programmer getting started with
the toolkit would be able to create a workable two- or three-page
application that could be rolled out to users in one day. By
comparison, she said, it might take one to three days for an
experienced Java programmer getting started with Alphablox to build
a similar application.

While the wizards protect non-programmers from the underlying detail
of the Blox Palette’s J2EE capabilities, such as writing tags on the
page, Java developers can go into Dreamweaver and see the code being
generated, or what is being done with tag libraries. As a result, they
can extend the applications created by non-programmers to include more
sophisticated analysis components and business logic over time.

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