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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.

Visual discovery tools have breathed new life into the business intelligence (BI) market. They are not only fun to use, quick to deploy, and easy on the eyes, they are the fastest growing segment of the BI market, thanks to pioneers QlikTech, Tableau, and Spotfire (now owned by Tibco), whose growth has trimmed the market share of traditional enterprise BI players. In response, most other BI vendors have recently introduced their own visual analysis products to widen their product capabilities and protect their installed bases.

Birst is the latest BI vendor to enter the visual discovery fray with its Birst Visualizer tool. While most enterprise BI players have simply shipped Tableau look-alike products whose only value-add comes from offering the software free of charge to enterprise customers, Birst offers some interesting new twists. By leveraging its semantic layer, search capabilities, and some pseudo-artificial intelligence, Birst Visualizer aims to bring the world of ad hoc visual analysis to non-analysts.

For example, a product manager could type "sales for Mass..." and Birst Visualizer automatically displays a line chart with the past four quarters of sales for Massachusetts. From there, users can filter and fine tune the chart with a few clicks of the mouse to detect a trend or follow a hunch. This search-driven interface, which makes educated guesses about what data users want and the form in which they want to see it, takes ease of use to the next level.

Birst Visualizer is easy to use because it rides seamlessly on top of Birst's cloud-based data warehousing platform and semantic layer. In other words, by the time Birst customers install Visualizer, they've already done the hard work of hammering corporate data into shape so users can query and analyze that data effortlessly. This is not the case with stand-alone visual discovery tools which have lightweight data integration tools but often rely on existing data warehouses or data marts to normalize and harmonize data.

Like its BI brethren, Birst bundles Visualizer for free with both editions of its software, Birst Discovery and Birst Enterprise. This means it's free for existing Birst customers, not so free for non-customers. Regardless, Birst Visualizer, which ships in February 2014, looks like the perfect analytical tool for the new breed of data-driven executive who wants to manipulate and analyze data directly instead of relying on analytical specialists.

For more information, go to this link at Birst's Web site. Also, see my 2013 report on visual discovery at www.b-eye-network.com, which compares visual discovery products from more than a dozen vendors.

Posted January 21, 2014 12:04 PM
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