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Wayne Eckerson

Welcome to Wayne's World, my blog that illuminates the latest thinking about how to deliver insights from business data and celebrates out-of-the-box thinkers and doers in the business intelligence (BI), performance management and data warehousing (DW) fields. Tune in here if you want to keep abreast of the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in this dynamic industry.

About the author >

Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is founder and principal consultant at Eckerson Group,a research and consulting company focused on business intelligence, analytics and big data.

Informatica Targets Business Analysts With New Data Preparation Tool

In the good old days of data warehousing, the information technology (IT) department was king and business analysts were... well... locked out.

If business analysts needed more or different data than was in the data warehouse, a data mart, or a report, they had to beg and plead IT to create a data set for them. Often, they had to wait days, weeks, or months for a data dump, and in the meantime they scrambled to find crumbs of relevant data and piece it together using Microsoft Excel or Access. Not surprisingly, research shows that business analysts spend at least a third of their working hours finding, cleaning, merging, and aggregating data--a huge time and cost sink that most organizations don't recognize.

Power shift. Today, the balance of power has shifted from the IT department to business units and their analysts, who are more inclined to spend money on data and analytics. Subsequently, vendors have rushed to build and sell self-service tools to business analysts so they can more quickly and easily access, manipulate, analyze, and visualize data without IT's help or intervention.

Given the opportunity, startups are swarming the space, offering innovative self-service tools for every step in the analytic workflow. But established vendors are not far behind. They are jumping in to protect their flank and bring a modicum of governance to self-service tooling so that business analysts don't proliferate analytical silos that undermine data consistency that is near and dear to the IT department.

Empowerment with Governance

One such established vendor is Informatica, which recently shipped Springbok, a new Web-based, self-service data preparation or "data wrangling" tool for business analysts. Informatica has grown to a billion dollar software firm by selling data integration platforms and tools to the IT department. But recognizing the growing power of business users, Informatica now offers a self-service data integration tool that not only makes it easy for analysts to access, profile, clean, combine, aggregate, and share data, but provides a bridge between business analysts and the IT department, which can monitor data usage patterns and bake those data flows into Informatica's ETL tool PowerCenter, which would create data structures that give business analysts an even shorter path to the data they need.

More than some other data wrangling tools, Springbok makes it easy for analysts to connect to data sources and upload data. From there, the tool uses built-in intelligence to automatically profile the data and make suggestions for how to parse, combine, and aggregate the data, among other things, taking a lot of the guesswork and tedium out of preparing data for analysis.

Governance opportunities. Springbok tracks in sequential order every operation that an analyst applies to a data set and displays it in a dialogue box called a "recipe sheet". This makes it easy for the analyst retrace his steps with the click of a mouse and share his process with colleagues or the IT department. The IT department can use the analyst's data preparation logic to prototype PowerCenter programs, further accelerating the time to market for new data sets.

Creating a technical bridge between analysts and IT is a huge differentiator for Informatica in a marketplace that is teaming with data wrangling upstarts.

Pricing. Informatica offers a freemium version of Springbok that provides 20GB of storage and 15,000-row limit per month of imported data. For $25 a month, users get 40GB of storage and 100,000 rows per month, while the Professional edition supports 50GB of storage and 10 million rows and costs $60 per month.

For more information and try Springbok for free, click here.

Posted October 26, 2014 8:35 AM
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Buying business intelligence (BI) from Microsoft is a little like buying your child a mail-order bike for Christmas. When you open the box late Christmas eve, you see umpteen parts, nuts, bolts and various accessories that you quickly realize will take all night to assemble, if you are lucky.

Although Microsoft offers some very good BI capabilities, they are built into a number of different products (Excel, SQL Server, Sharepoint, etc.) and do not come as an integrated bundle. First, you need to purchase the right versions of each Microsoft product and then assign several developers to wire the BI capabilities of the products together to ensure a seamless user experience. So, although Microsoft doesn't charge for BI, it takes a lot of time and money to get a Microsoft BI implementation up and running, especially in an enterprise environment.

Fortunately, there is a BI product that takes the pain out of installing and using BI capabilities for Microsoft customers. Called BI Office Suite, the product from Pyramid Analytics provides a tightly integrated BI environment that supports reporting, dashboarding, analysis, visualization, and data mining. Using LDAP-based security and role-based permissioning, the product can be tailored to both casual and power users so companies only needs to purchase a single tool to meet everyone's reporting and analytical needs.

This is sweet news to many Microsoft customers, who comprise the vast majority of Pyramid Analytic's 450+ customers. And one notable customer is Microsoft, who purchased a division site license and recently appointed Pyramid as Managed Partner for a number of industry verticals (health, finance, federal). BI Office Suite strengthens the overall Microsoft BI stack especially in competitive situations with Tableau, Qlik, Cognos and other established BI vendors.

Built on the Microsoft stack with SQL Server Analysis Services as its core engine, BI Office Suite has branched beyond the Microsoft platform this year and now imports data into an in-memory cache from a host of databases and applications, from local files to relational and NoSQL databases, and applications, such as Salesforce.com. The product was built from the ground-up as a Web product, so there is no desktop software to install or maintain. The company recently introduced an HTML5 interface (replacing Silverlight) and a variety of hybrid mobile apps so that it runs on any device with automatic screen resizing.

Other key differentiators include a modular and scalable architecture with load balancing with both scale up and scale out functionality on clustered computers. It also offers server-based data modeling and manipulation (i.e. data wrangling), which means the models analysts build can be easily shared, reused and monitored. Finally, the product embeds the open source R language to support data mining operations under the covers.

For more information, see www.pyramidanalytics.com

Posted October 1, 2014 4:53 PM
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Dundas Data Visuailzation, Inc. is about to complete its transition from a provider of charting components to a full-stack business intelligence (BI) vendor. Founded in 1992, the Toronto-based company became one of the leading providers of charting and programming controls. Seeing an opportunity to move "up the stack", Dundas sold most of its components to Microsoft in 2007 and focused on building a dashboard product, which it shipped in 2010. Capitalizing on its visualization heritage, Dundas quickly built a following for its Dundas Dashboards product. It now has almost 1,000 customers in 53 countries, including many Fortune 500 companies.

Recognizing that many customers were using its dashboard product for other BI functions, Dundas recently decided to build a BI suite, called Dundas BI, that it plans to ship by end of year. The suite will support ad hoc reporting, analysis, dashboarding, scorecarding, visual discovery, and a data mashup utility along with an in-memory database.

Dundas Dashboards runs on a .NET architecture with Microsoft IIS Web Server and Microsoft SQL Server, enabling it to access relational and OLAP databases and flat files. Business users access the product using Microsoft Silverlight-based browsers or HTML5 for mobile devices. Version 5, shipped this year, enables users to schedule reports (PDF, PowerPoint, or Excel), HTML5 viewer for mobile devices, connectivity to Amazon Redshift, and a usage tracking application. Dundas has a consulting team that helps customers design key performance indicators and dashboard and scorecard displays. The company's top top competitor is Qlik.

For more information, go to www.dundas.com

Posted September 30, 2014 11:25 AM
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Stream processing has idled on the backwaters of the analytic market for years. But with the advent of Hadoop and new open source streaming tools, such as Storm, Spark, and Kafka, many companies are taking a closer look. And many stream processing tools are finally finding a home with the Internet of Things, in which consumer and commercial devices--from smartphones and household appliances to automobiles, utility meters, and medical equipment--emit millions of events per second and require specialized analytical systems to process them in real time.

Stream processing platforms, like SQLstream, provide both the horsepower and smarts to filter, aggregate, group, compare, and analyze large volumes of data in flight as well as visualize the results in real time. Telecommunications companies use SQLstream to monitor network performance, track service usage, and detect fraud in real time; oil and gas producers use it to monitor operations of drilling rigs, digital wells, and intelligent oil fields; and transportation companies use it to monitor traffic congestion, among many other things.

Compared to Storm and Spark, SQLstream is a complete enterprise platform for streaming analytics that can be deployed quickly without a large development effort. Whereas the open source projects are free to download, they require a lot of development talent and time to make work, especially in high-volume environments. Moreover, SQLstream, which gets its name because it uses continuous SQL to generate analytics, runs more efficiently, requiring many fewer servers and less overall expenditures.

As devices become more intelligent with the addition of sensors, product companies will need to invest in stream processing systems to make sense of the deluge of data. SQLstreams is well positioned to capitalize on the emerging Internet of Things.

For more information, see www.sqlstream.com

Posted September 16, 2014 11:22 AM
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Sometimes the best things come in small packages. If you want to create reports and dashboards directly from source data, then you might want to consider Entrinsik, a small business intelligence (BI) vendor with a venerable pedigree and highly satisfied customers.

Founded in 1984, Entrinsik got pulled into BI in 2002 when it built a Web reporting tool for customers using MultiValue databases, such as UniVerse and UniData, which store attributes as strings in the same table as the entity. This denormalized structure makes it difficult to generate reports quickly or easily. But Entrinsik cracked the MultiValue database nut and quickly became the go-to-player for MultiValue reporting tools. Since then, Entrinsik has expanded into the SQL market. Its Informer product queries both SQL and MultiValue databases.

As an operational BI product, Entrinsik complements traditional BI tools that primarily query data warehouses or other predefined dimensional or analytical structures. In many cases, Entrinsik becomes a customer's defacto BI tool because it is quick to set up, easy to use, priced affordably, and comes with superior customer service and support. Entrinsik is used heavily by community colleges and mid-size universities, as well as insurance and manufacturing companies.

Like most other BI tools, Entrinsik customers create a metadata layer, which requires about 2-3 weeks of effort. Once that is built, users can then build ad hoc reports and dashboards by dragging and dropping objects onto a canvass and configuring them accordingly. Entrinsik also lets customers, many of whom are value-added resellers, customize the product via its Java plug-in architecture.

For more information, see www.entrinsik.com

Posted September 1, 2014 12:05 PM
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