Low Cost, High Benefit BI Solutions
By: Randal Root
Business Intelligence (BI) is the art of converting stored data into information using reports. Although BI reporting has been recommended for over a decade as an essential part of IT infrastructures, many companies have not incorporated it into their businesses. In many ways this is a shame since BI reporting solutions provide many benefits. For example, consider a salesperson using a report on inventory status to better inform a customer of the availability of a product; or a doctor using reports to track medications, temperatures, and recovery indicators for a given patient.
While there are a number of possible reasons for the slow adoption of BI, one of them is the perceived cost to benefit ratio. Previously, BI solutions have had high cost but low benefit; however, recent technologies have reversed this dynamic! To understand this change, let's examine some emerging trends that affect the current state of BI-related technologies.
BI can be divided into two basic components: server side storage, and client side reporting. Both of these components cost dramatically less than they did ten years ago.
For example, Microsoft provides a free version of its databases engine, Microsoft SQL Server 2012, called SQL Express 2012. On the Open Source side of things, you have the MySQL database engine which is also free. Both can be used to create the server side storage component of BI solutions without the cost of licensing. These free database engines are often as powerful as previously licensed software from ten years ago.
There are a number of free applications available to create client-side reporting as well. For instance, Microsoft provides SQL Server's Reporting Services (SSRS) as a free add-on server to SQL Express 2012 (downloaded as SQL Server Express 2012 with Advanced Services). This is a full featured, web-based reporting solution. SSRS can be used to create reports using data from Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, and many others database engines.
Ok, so we have seen that the cost has decreased, but how have the benefits increased? While the price for database storage has dropped, the collection of data has increased; so much so that the consumption of all the collected data has become problematic. Humans have historically been able to handle large amounts of anything, by categorizing into groups. In the case of BI report data, the grouping process takes the form of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or dashboard reports.
Unlike traditional tabular reports, KPI and dashboard reports summarize report data into small indicators using graphics and icons. Reports that use small indicators are a great way to display information on small devices such as cell phones and tablet PCs. This combination of low-cost data storage, inexpensive web based reports, ubiquitous hand held devices are unprecedented in our history, and may well begin the widespread adoption of BI solutions predicted ten years ago.
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