Is BI ready for the masses?
- By Peter Bochner
Business intelligence (BI) tools have long been the purview of the IT
business analyst -- a power user whose job it is to dig deep into enterprise
data and look for trends and opportunities. Most casual users, such as business
managers and executives, have long lacked the programming skills needed to use
traditional BI solutions. As a result, non-power users must often wait days or
weeks for IT to create specific reports or queries.
Actuate Corp. officials aim to change that history with the shipment of
Version 7 of its Actuate BI toolset, which incorporates an object-oriented
development environment, a server-based infrastructure and drag-and-drop
templates that officials say allow the less-technical user to develop their own
reports and database queries. The casual user's ''favorite data manipulation and
display tool is Microsoft Excel,'' said Nobby Akiha, vice president of marketing
at Actuate Corp. in South San Francisco. ''But if they want to further
investigate some Web-based reports, do some manipulation of data and dump that
data into Excel, that's a one-off request.''
Dumping data into one-off spreadsheets creates an environment of
disconnected, standalone end-user applications, contends Akiha. ''What IT worries
about is the impact on data integrity from runaway queries,'' he added. ''That's
why they can't handle all the countless ad-hoc requests from casual users.''
Actuate 7 is said to eliminate this problem by creating server-managed
spreadsheets that generate reports by retrieving data directly from the original
source. A tool called Information Object Designer can help IT managers to
control the data sources that individuals or groups can access. IT managers can
define data streams and then create an Information Object that gives a user or a
group of users access to only the data approved for them. The Query tool, which
employs a dashboard point-and-click GUI, allows users to develop their own
reports to retrieve information, Akiha said. The e.Spreadsheet Designer tool
allows users to design reports using a spreadsheet template. ''Our
object-oriented capabilities make [the creation of reports] a drag-and-drop
process,'' said Akiha. The reports are then saved as Excel documents, put on the
server and served up to the users on a regular basis.
Users can also choose to receive HTML, DHTML, PDF or XML content, and, from a
personalized information view, can also automatically update, transact or
''Our process is different than building a data warehouse and giving the user
tools to access the data. Our way makes the user more guided, but also more
accountable,'' Akiha said, adding that ''initial projects may take a little bit
longer, but because of Actuate 7's object-oriented nature, deployment time does
get much faster as you build more and more applications.'' Since Actuate tends to
go after corporations with $1 billion or more in revenue, that trade-off may be
worth it, he contends.
The Actuate 7 platform will be rolled out in three phases. The first release,
which gives the casual user ad-hoc query and report-creation tools, will be
available at the end of April. Pricing starts at $35,000 per CPU or $495 per
named user. Pricing for the Actuate Query Option starts at $5,000 per