Monday, May 30, 2011

Skills required to become a MS BI Architect : Download Tech Ed Videos FREE

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Microsoft Tech-Ed is like a feast of knowledge and tons of information is raining all over the place. It becomes a big confusion to figure out what to learn and what to skip, as there are mountains of topics in front of you. As an Architect you cannot simply stick to one tool / technology, but you need to select a platform and study the eco-system surrounding it.

For example, I consider Microsoft Business Intelligence as a platform and eco-system surrounding it are:

1) Custom .NET and cross Microsoft platform based applications that integrate with MS BI
2) Cloud setup and configuration using Windows Azure platform
3) Infrastructure used with MS BI and related components like SAN, Load Balancers etc
4) Collaboration platforms like Sharepoint
5) Storage platforms like data warehouses
6) Application Design patterns like MVVM as they impact data access methodology from MS BI based data stores using LINQ and other methods
7) Reference architectures like fast track data warehouse
8) Cross BI platforms like SAP and Duet Architecture from an integration aspect
9) Hosting patterns using virtualization
10) Security models like federation services and much more.

In my personal experience, as an Architect, you deal with solutions and eco-system around the platform of your strength / expertise, which in my case is MS BI. Below are the Top 30 Tech Ed sessions (in no particular order) from the hundreds of session delivered at the Tech Ed. These are the topics which are of prime interest to me. All of them would not be of equal importance, I would take most of them with a MUST KNOW sincerity level, and might glance over the rest just to keep up the pace with the winds of change. For a list of all the sessions, you can visit and download Tech Ed 2011 videos from Channel 9.

1) Using Windows Azure Virtual Machine Role

Getting started with Cloud Business Intelligence

Creating Self-Service Analytic BI Applications with Microsoft SharePoint 2010

4) MVC , MVP and MVVM : A Comparison of Architectural Patterns

5) Application Development with HTML5

6) Managing Master Data Services with MDS and Microsoft Excel

7) Combining Public and Private Clouds into Useful Hybrids

8) Architecting for a Secure Cloud

9) Creating Great End-User Experiences with Fast Search for Sharepoint 2010

10) The Taming of the Clouds: Integrating SaaS with your On-Premise Environment

11) What Are the Bridges between Private and Public Cloud

12) Hyper-V Cloud Fast Track: A Reference Architecture for Private Cloud

13) Fast Track Data Warehouse Version 3.0 New Features and Best Practices

14) Microsoft SQL Server in Virtualization and Private Cloud

15) Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services Design Challenges

16) Let's Get Visual: The Art of Report Design

17) Innovative Storage and Data Management Strategies to Power Your Microsoft Enterprise Applications

18) SAP Interoperability with Duet Enterprise for Microsoft Sharepoint and SAP , BCS , and Microsoft Office 2010

19) Active Directory Federation Services , Part I : How do they really work ?

20) Active Directory Federation Services , Part II : Building Federated Identity Solutions

21) Best Practices for Private Cloud Implementation

22) Advanced Business Intelligence Solutions Using Microsoft Excel + Excel Services

23) Scale-Out Deployment of Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services

24) Developing Enterprise-Grade Mobile Solutions

25) IT-Centric Dashboard in Minutes with Microsoft Sharepoint 2010 Using Microsoft Visio / Visio Services

26) Virtualizing Microsoft SQL Server with Hyper-V

27) Connecting Cloud and On-Premises Applications Using Windows Azure Virtual Network

28) Using Microsoft SQL Azure with On-Premises Data : Migration and Synchronization Strategies and Practices

29) Managing Windows Azure Applications

30) Using Knowledge to Cleanse Data with Data Quality Services

Sunday, May 29, 2011

SQL Server Data Quality Services Architecture Video + My thoughts

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SQL Server Denali is going to comes up with a new service, known as Data Quality Services (SSDQS). Knowing the architecture, targeted use, integration options, cost of ownership, developer friendliness etc are the fitment tests that a product needs to pass before architects give a green flag from the initial fitment test. Principal Group Program Manager of DQS gave a detailed demonstration at Tech Ed, on the developments happening in the Microsoft SQL Server factory for DQS right from architecture discussion to different detailed demos. I am not going to reiterate the same here in this post, but you can download the video from here.

Some of my thoughts after going through this video on DQS are as follows:

1) I am a big admirer of SSIS, so I was looking forward on how SSIS can hook into DQS. As we already saw in CTP 1 of Denali that SSIS would have a transform named SSIS Data Quality Client (at least as of now and to the best of my knowledge). This would behave more or less in the same way Fuzzy lookup or web services are used with SSIS. Whatever that happens inside DQ Server should be transparent to SSIS.

2) DQS has DQ Domains, Domain Rules, Domain Management, Knowledge Base, Knowledge Discovery, DQ Projects, DQ Client, Profiling, Notification etc as its core components in its architecture. These knowledge base are like Schema with rules and attributes and each knowledge base would fall under a domain. Dataset would be passed through these reference data / knowledge bases, which would identify and rectify data that violates the rules of the knowledge base, and at the same time enrich the knowledge base. This is my summarized version, if you get confused, just follow the video.

3) SQL Azure Data Market Place is presently and potentially the most promising client as well as customer for DQS, in my personal opinion. Data Quality market is already having it's leaders and DQS might take some time to reserve a seat in that league and gain customer confidence.

4) DQS uses reference data sets and knowledge base rules, as a part of the data quality setup. It would be interesting to see if Master Data Services can bring in some help in this area. If MDS can be integrated with DQS, and that is turn can be hooked up from SSIS, it would make a good integration design. Else functionally I see some kind of overlap between MDS and Domain knowledge / Reference data setup for DQS, though the intended purpose of both the tools / services are completely different.

There's a lot to come and go before SQL Server Denali goes RTM. So till then stay tuned and enjoy the thrill !

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Silverlight based Business Intelligence using Infragistics Motion Framework

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Data discovery is a branch of BI that is applied over strategic data i.e. long-term historic data. Visualization plays a very vital role in BI data representation to facilitate effortless data analysis. Silverlight based BI components and motion frameworks is the new trend gradually propagating in the MS BI world. Dundas Dashboards, Telerik Charting and Grid controls, Silverlight Toolkit from Microsoft etc are fine examples of Silverlight based components that can be used for BI reporting.

Before few years, the way bullet charts came as a new candidate for KPI reporting, motion graphics based data analysis is coming up as a new visualization for data discovery. When you have a set of attributes of an entity, and you want to analyze individual and group entities changing over a scale, typically time scale, motion graphics based analysis can be a very effective tool.

This statement may sound very confusing to interpret and digest, but can be better understood by this example. For ex, when you have a trend analysis report, you have the entire trend on a graph. If you want to study trend step by step, that is possible only in your mind but not on the graph on which trend is displayed. If you want to see trend step by step, you need to keep changing the scale of the graph and keep on increasing the same to study it step by step.

Studying trends using motion graphics solves this problem. Silverlight is a rich ingredient for an appealing user experience and to abstract lot of detail on the report, still making is available conveniently on demand. In my last experience, I remember Trend Compass having a motion graphics visualization. I also vaguely remember Telerik having a similar component in their charting controls. Now Infragistics is a new player coming up with a new rich motion framework, that sounds very appealing from the way it has been portrayed.

Infragistics has been a very popular name in the .NET world for the rich UI capabilities it offers with its frameworks. The new offering that I see from Infragistics in the context of BI is its Motion Framework. You can understand the use of this framework only from a demo, and one of the very intresting demos can be accessed from here. Over a slow internet connection it might take a little time than usual to load, but your patience would pay off by the way the experience of the demo would delight you.

I suggest to check out the following from the demo:

1) Click on the Play button on the top-left of the screen. This is the main highlight of what motion-framework offers, and what you can study from trends that change over time.

2) Hover your mouse on the colored world-map on the top-right in different colored sections, and see the effect on the upper chart. This map acts like a filter !!

3) Click on a few random countries in the bottom-right. It acts as parameters to the bottom chart.

4) Watch out the tooltip of the countries, and see the visual of the tooltip.

5) Watch out the tooltip of any of the country icon in the upper chart, which has numeric as well as graphical details.

There is much more to explore, and I leave the rest of the exploration to the delight of the readers.

Monday, May 23, 2011

SSIS Balanced Data Distributor Transform

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Microsoft download center has a new download available that would be of interest to many SSIS professionals. Its a new transform named Balanced Data Distributor transform, which takes a single input and distributes the incoming rows to one or more outputs uniformly via multithreading. Below mentioned is the description of this transform as mentioned on the download page:

"Microsoft® SSIS Balanced Data Distributor (BDD) is a new SSIS transform. This transform takes a single input and distributes the incoming rows to one or more outputs uniformly via multithreading. The transform takes one pipeline buffer worth of rows at a time and moves it to the next output in a round robin fashion. It’s balanced and synchronous so if one of the downstream transforms or destinations is slower than the others, the rest of the pipeline will stall so this transform works best if all of the outputs have identical transforms and destinations. The intention of BDD is to improve performance via multi-threading. Several characteristics of the scenarios BDD applies to: 1) the destinations would be uniform, or at least be of the same type. 2) the input is faster than the output, for example, reading from flat file to OleDB. "

Considering the test performed on this transform, from the results it seems that performance of this transform is a little better over other transforms like Script and Conditional Split. But it should also be taken into consideration that this transform buffer by buffer to its output ends, and the other two checks the data based on the specified logic and then divides the data. Its a nice transform to have in your existing SSIS toolbelt.

The best use of this transform that I can think of is when your input is extremely fast, and you have replicated blocks of logic to keep up the pace with the incoming data flow. In such a case BDD acts as a distributor bridge pumping data to all logic pipelines. But if data is to be dissected conditionally, Conditional Split would be the option again. The speed of distribution harnessed by this transform seems to be due to two reasons: 1) No distribution of data conditionally, just pass buffer by buffer 2) Multithreading architecture.

Certain curious questions the my mind raises are:

1) Denali is already in CTP mode and more CTPs are expected to come. Then why this transform has been released separately at this time and so silently?

2) Will this transform be a regular transform available with Denali, or would it remain a mysterious separated out transform?

3) This transform is available only for SSIS 2008 and SSIS 2008 R2, not SSIS 2005. Why ? Actually it's SSIS 2005 that needs more help with transforms like this, where it would be a value addition to customers who have already made investments in SSIS 2005 !

Let's look forward to the next CTP of Denali to checkout whether this transform would have a seat in SSIS Denali.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mobile Business Intelligence using SSRS in MS BI and impact on BISM

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Mobile business intelligence is a growing need day by day, and with the advent of devices like Apple IPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs, the requirement would continue to grow more and more. Long back when I was in my academics, we used to develop websites that would emit WML (Wireless Markup Language) over WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), which would be viewed on smart devices. We used to test these sites using Nokia mobile toolkit SDK. Time has changed drastically since then, and more android and symbian based thick clients as well as web based accelerator tools have emerged to cater mobile reporting needs. Mobile BI reporting is even more challenging, as this nature of reporting needs to be rich in visualizations as well as facilitate user interaction.

Blogosphere is celebrating the announcements made regarding SSAS and BISM, as the news are very positive and bright for SSAS and Vertipaq powered Powerpivot, but the set of reporting applications available as of now or on the horizon are still not that powerful. Crescent may be rich in visualizations (compared to SSRS), but not Mobile enabled to the best of my knowledge. SSRS, Powerpivot, Excel and Sharepoint Insights ( Excel Services, Visio Services, BCS, Performancepoint Services) - none of these can be made available for smart devices using any out-of-box features or technologies. The impact is that your BI solution is not mobile, and this can change the entire equation of technology selection. Just consider an example, that enterprises have online libraries for employees like Books24x7, and available over internet and even that is supported on smart devices. So if you plan to build a powerful BI and analytics application for an enterprise with maximum adoption and usability in view, with the tag of "NOT Mobile", how far one can expect the adoption and usability ?

Below is a list of a few prominent Mobile BI Vendors, but unfortunately SSRS / Microsoft is not on the list.

1) BIRT Mobile by Actuate

2) Roambi Enterprise Server (ES3) by MeLLmo

3) Microstrategy Mobile

4) PushBI by Extended Results

5) SAP BusinessObjects

6) QlikView for Mobile by QlikTech

7) SAS Mobile

8) SoftMaster Mobile Business Intelligence for Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE)

9) IBM Cognos 8 Go! Mobile for Cognos Business Intelligence

10) Other players such as LogiXML and Analyzer from Strategy Companion are emerging players.

Even I am happy with the announcements made by BISM, but still the weakness in reporting stack adds a concern, for which I do not see an out-of-box solution from MS BI Stack. The later Microsoft makes an entry into this area, the harder it would be to promote its adoption as clients would already had invested into other accelerators which are not Microsoft partners in this space. It's not a show stopper, but the results are obvious !! I am sure Microsoft must be having this in their vision, and if someone is reading this post from Microsoft, I would be glad to hear back their comments on this viewpoint of mine. Also please someone correct me if I am not updated in my knowhow on support for smart devices by reporting applications in Microsoft BI ecosystem.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

MS BI Dashboard Design : Identifying right components for your dashboard

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When you think of dashboard development in Microsoft BI world, the only name that would pop-up is Performancepoint. A general perception is that professionals who are skilled at using performancepoint are dashboard development experts, but this is a very big misconception. To develop an appealing and effective dashboard, one needs the skill of translating user requirements to reporting elements. Even dashboard ultimately is a summarized report.

One of the common issues that can be seen on dashboards developed by professionals, who do not have right kind of reporting experience, can be seen on KPI reporting. Mostly KPIs are reported using traffic light indicators, and this has built-in support in performancepoint to create a scorecard and host KPIs. But over the period of time when user start using dashboards regularly, they feel the need to see the functional detail on the KPI on the dashboard itself. For example, when the user is analyzing a KPI (Cost Performance Index, for example), user would like to check different thresholds associated with this KPI. The values of interest can be, what is actual, what was target, what were the thresholds for Green, Amber and Red indicators etc.

Using stop light indicators, you can just display the status of the KPI but you can't display thresholds associated with the KPIs. Here a PPS professional would not know the solution, and the most that PPS developer would do is show the threshold values in the tooltip, which is not a solution at all. A seasoned reporting professional would immediately suggest a bullet graph for this, which is available in SSRS. You might have gone with the option of PPS just due to the scorecard feature, and when you figure out that even SSRS with Bullet Graph would have sufficed, the earth under your legs might start shaking !! This example is a very commonly found example, and if you have worked on a few reporting projects, you must have come across this scenario.

Selecting right element for the right requirement is the key to any reporting solution, whether it may be a simple operational report or a sophisticated dashboard. So when you start thinking about your dashboard design and development using MS BI tools and technologies, you need to make sure that the skill that should be primarily available with you is a reporting expert and not a SSRS / PPS expert.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Using a scheduler in the technical design of your BI solution

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In Microsoft world when you think of scheduler, SQL Agent is one of the most famous name that would come up on the list. Scheduling can be seen as a very nominal and regular requirement in almost every project, and most professionals would think of addressing it by installing a scheduler on your target server. There is a difference between having a mission critical scheduler service and an enterprise scheduling service. If you see from the eye of an architect, you would never want a mission critical scheduler, as in the long run it becomes a maintenance bottleneck. There are two points to consider before designing solution for your scheduling needs. Firstly you need to figure our an enterprise class scheduler and secondly you need to get right design in place.

Personally, I do not see SQL Agent as an enterprise scheduler. It is very much useful for scheduling database related tasks, but even there I see some very serious shortcomings. For example, there is no file-watcher capability built-in with it, and watching for file / feeds is a very essential and common requirement with application as well as BI solutions. An example of enterprise class scheduler is Autosys, that I have seen in many enterprises class IT environments. Some of the strong features are scripting support, client-server architecture, multi-platform support, file-watcher event-watcher and other intercepting capabilities. ETL / Data warehousing solutions mostly need intercepting capabilities for data feeds, and if you need to depend on your ETL tool for interception rather than your scheduler, this is a shortcoming of your scheduler. In SSIS, developers use third-party File-Watcher and WMI tasks to watch for feeds, but I personally see it as a shortcoming of SQL Agent and not SSIS.

Now comes the question of how you frame your scheduler in the technical design of your solution. Mostly designers are concerned limited to the scope of the solution they are developing. But an architect needs to foresee how the solution would grow and fit in the enterprise. Any successful solution and business would mostly flourish, and so would the IT systems surrounding the same. With this growth whether it is in the form of scaling the solution and server across geographies, or more solutions getting rigged with your solution, your scheduling needs would also grow. So in case you have opted to use mission critical database or application or system schedulers, it would be extremely hard to manage your scheduling. Consider you have your BI solution spread across geographies with multiple servers and you intend to manage different scheduling needs on different servers, and you have opted to use scheduler on each server by installing SQL Agent. So how do you enforce policies, deploy scheduling routines, as well as control and monitor the same ?

The solution you need to have is a scheduler with a client server architecture. Generally the regular practice is to have a centralized scheduling batch server and scheduling agents are installed on each server. Scheduled jobs are always punched in the centralized batch server and agents synchronize with this server to retrieve jobs respective to their servers. In this way you can replicate your BI solution by creating different server clusters at different geographies without any maintenance , and scheduling of each cluster can be managed using the centralized batch server.

Enterprise class scheduler + Scheduling design pattern = High Performance. Delivered. (It's accenture punch line !).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Free SSAS tutorial : End to End, Step by Step with Exercise

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SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) - This technology is considered one of the most challenging and most valued skills in the microsoft parlance. The reason for being challenging is the very nature of OLAP is multi dimensional. Professionals working on the database or administration side are used to think in two dimension i.e. rows and columns in tabular structures. SQL is designed for two dimensional structures. But as soon as you enter OLAP territory from OLTP territory, the first challenge for professionals from a relational background is to break the shackles of two dimensional thinking and empty your mind. You need to develop the state when you did not knew what a database meant.

Its not as easy to do as it is to state, but still its achievable. If you aspire to be a Business Intelligence professional, you need to start to add a different dimension to the way you think and analyze data. Dimensional Modeling, Cube Design, MDX, KPI, Dashboards, Analytical Charts, Graphs and Gauges, Self Service BI - this would be the landscape of your world in BI. It might sound very confusing and you might not even be knowing the meaning or full form of the abbreviations, but if you intend to make an entry into BI, you need to start with your baby steps somewhere.

Coming to the point, I have authored a complete end-to-end basic tutorial on SSAS and it can be read from here. What is so special in this tutorial that you should read it and not any other book that explains SSAS from scratch ? Very obvious question, and the answer is if you had any idea of what is SSAS and which book you should read, you would not be reading this post till here. If you are still reading this means that you either have an interest in learning SSAS as you are completely fresh to it, or you intend to refresh your fundamentals. Also if you are seasoned with SSAS feel free to review my draft and share your opinions. This tutorial is crafted from my experience of working with professionals who have made their migration from SQL Developer / DBA background to SSAS eventually. I am not claiming that its easy, but this tutorial can give you the launchpad to develop a vision of where you want to head on, which book you want to buy after understanding what is SSAS, whether SSAS interests you enough to make a migration to the BI world, etc. And final thing, its FREE.

I would like to invite you to take a glance at this tutorial, and I would be glad if it helped you in anyways. Feel free to share your opinions or comments by either dropping me an email or commenting on this post.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Visual Business Intelligence using MS BI

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Business Intelligence has a lot of adjectives associated with it, and one that is generally not found in limelight is visual business intelligence. Those who are not aware of this term would even feel that it's just a hoax and no such category of BI exists, but many do not know that lack of attention to this form of BI is one of the major reasons why major BI projects fail. After this statement the question is, what is Visual BI and why I have never heard it in MS BI world ?

There are two groups of professionals:

1) Those who just believe in ideology of "Code is GOD". This group generally looks upon theorist as people who are dumb in knowledge as they do not deal with implementation day-in day-out.

2) Those who believe in associating implementation to methodical and design approach. Design approach is a very broad term and is not limited just to design patterns. User Experience, Information Representation, Visual Analytics does not just reside in theoretical whitepapers or books, but in practice they take a very high prominence when dealing with critical nature or volume of business as well as business users.

Cutting the theory and back to technology, visual business intelligence means how good you understand your data, purpose of data analysis, users who would be doing the analysis and based on this how you design the visual representation of this data on your reports and/or dashboards. Professionals who are seasoned with designing reports using SSRS / Crystal Reports / Business Objects / Actuate would call them reporting professionals, and provided they have a few years they would start considering them reporting analysts. In my views just as you use a reporting tool to report data from a cube, does not make you a report analyst. A report analyst role is a very key role in dashboard design and this is the role who would be mostly responsible for the Visual BI.

Visual BI is all about representing data in the best form suited to the use of the data, so that the users can make analysis using just the shape and eyes, without making any calculations to make the analysis. A report analyst would know whether to use a multivariate analysis using heatmap, or whether to use histogram for statistical analysis, or to use scatterplot for outliers analysis, or use a calculated series with line charts for trend analysis, etc. An ignorant report analyst might use 3D-charts to make the graphics appealing, but would overlook the factor that third dimension does not add any value in terms of data. If you carefully look at a 3D Bar Chart, there is a high probability that you would often get more confused while comparing bars as the slanted view does not provide enough clarity to compare size. This is where Visual BI comes to play, to make the graph useful to the extent that user would take all the required answers just by looking at the graph. For this right selection of graph for the right kind of analysis with the right kind of information representation is required.

SSRS 2008 R2 might not be as strong as it's competitors in terms of features, but with the new graphical and charting enhancements it has a lot to offer in terms of Visual BI. It depends on how informed you are on the visual design of the information and user experience aspect. SparkLines, DataBars, Interlacing effect, Pareto analysis based charts, Customizable gauges etc are highly effective tools, and provided you have the right knowledge to design information visualization using these tools, you can defeat a dashboard designed using some million dollar enterprise software suite. Visual BI is the success ingredient for an effective dashboard design, and in my opinion, one should focus and invest in learning reporting techniques than mere reporting tools. But if you fall in "Code is GOD" category, pray that the tool of your expertise survives forever !!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Developing and provisioning Mobile Business Intelligence using Analyzer

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Mobile business intelligence is a very loosely-defined term, but without a doubt it’s a much-desired feature for almost any kind of reporting audience. With the advent of more and more smart devices, access to the web is not limited to desktops and laptops anymore. You would find devices like smartphones, tablet PCs, IPhones, IPads or at least GPRS-enabled cellphones with almost every second or third user who regularly uses Internet or IT-enabled systems. Generally, specialized accelerators are used to modulate your regular reports to suit the navigation and display capabilities of a smart device. But the consideration linked with such accelerators is that you need separate accelerators for separate devices as these accelerators are mostly device-specific and add an additional processing interface to deliver your reports on the target devices. If your reporting model changes, your accelerator might also be subject to change. Ideally the reporting solution should have built-in intelligent capabilities to make the reports suited to the device on which it is being viewed. Maintaining multiple definitions of the same report for different individuals or groups of devices makes the reporting solution very hard to develop as well as maintain.

How can Analyzer Mobile BI address mobile BI reporting challenges and requirements?

1) New report development and distribution paradigm for Mobile BI: In my experience, traditionally reports are authored on development systems and then hosted on collaboration platforms so they are accessible to a wide range of users. Accelerators are introduced on the top of this collaboration platform to modulate these reports to suit the target devices to facilitate mobile BI. Mostly these accelerators are thick-client applications on the device itself or specialized add-ons on the collaboration platform to mutate the report output.

Due to the obvious complexity, reports are never authored on smart devices. Analyzer is a zero-footprint solution, using a browser-based interface, and Strategy Companion has continued that theme with their approach to Mobile BI, making that also a zero-footprint solution on the devices in the picture shown below, for both smartphones and tablets of the Apple, BlackBerry, and Android varieties. So with Analyzer, you first create your reports and dashboards using the zero-footprint browser front-end using your desktop or laptop.The only requirement to make the reports mobile is to then mark the reports as available for mobile access, and the rest is taken care of by Analyzer.

2) Latest web standard adoption: Analyzer Mobile uses HTML5 which is the latest standard of HTML. Obviously the first question that would pop up in any curious mind is how does this change anything? HTML5 is a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standard and the same is expected to be available with improvements for multimedia. This helps to bring a reasonable UI to display reports when they are rendered on smart devices.

Additionally, when any product uses a globally accepted standard instead of some proprietary technology, the benefit is that you open partnering possibilities with other partner products, due to the implicit compliance being brought to the table. For an easier way to understand this is, consider ODBC as an example. When ODBC was not in existence, different applications were dependent on using specialized drivers and approaches to connect to each database and this made the application more DB-specific. ODBC became a standard, and then applications using ODBC became more scalable as they could connect to any DB as long as it was ODBC-compliant.

3) Intelligent Interactivity: Most accelerators modulate reports to fit within the screen size and navigation mechanism of the smart device. But these reports are static web pages and have no built-in intelligent navigation mechanism. BI is all about problem decomposition and data analysis, and the top level report is almost always the starting point.

Analysts drill down, compare, slice and dice the data to extract intelligence out of the report. So an intelligent and convenient mechanism to do this becomes a prime necessity of the report. Having the same built-in to the report authoring platform is a huge advantage as the developer needs not to program the same for different devices, making report definitions free from device navigation logic. Below is a screenshot of a report viewed in a smart device where such navigation controls are displayed.

How can developers test these reports on different devices?

Emulators are one thing that developers should look for, to test these reports on different mobile devices. Check out this link which demonstrates how you can test applications on mobile devices using emulators. A demo site is already available for users to evaluate these reports from different kinds of smart devices and the same can be accessed from here. You would be requiredto provide authentication credentials to access the same: Username/Password – analyzer/mobile. I recommend testing these reports from the supported smart device emulators and check out how impressive is the mobile BI reporting experience offered by Analyzer.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Free dashboard development tools and softwares

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In today's budget economy, everyone wants free tools and softwares, and whosoever provides the same FREE, manages to invite a tsunami full of attention from the target audience. But I see it from a different perspective, and one point is what you want for free and why you want for free ?

I recently received a query from one of my blog readers, requesting me to share any free dashboard development tools or software for use with SSAS. In my perspective if you are having a data warehouse and/or data mart and you intend to use a free dashboard development tool, I interpret it as any or all of the below:

1) You are not serious about your dashboarding solution, so you do not intend to invest much or anything on this front.

2) Your dashboard solution is expected to be of a very modest size, so you do not intend to invest.

3) You might be wanting to get a feel of a dashboard, so you might be intending to create some POC or flavor of dashboard.

4) You want a dashboarding solution, but you are out of budget.

In case if you have a enterprise class or even SMB class data warehouse and/or data mart, right at the time of solution design and estimation, dashboarding would have been considered into your estimates. Now as you are looking for a free dashboarding tool, considering the above points, I derive that you do not need a very high-end complex professional dashboard development platform and/or software. In that case below are the options that can help you create your dashboard with your existing licenses, which would be almost free for you.

1) SSRS 2008 R2 has great UI capabilites like data bars, sparklines, indicators, charts and more. Using the same you can emulate a very rich dashboard UI. If you have an enterprise SQL Server license, you already have SSRS and you would not need anything extra to develop your dashboard.

2) .NET / MOSS Development, is one of the other options to create a dashboard. .NET Framework is free and redistributable, and there are many editors using which you can develop .NET based UI and host it on your reporting / hosting platform to emulate a dashboard.

3) Excel is also known as poor man's or business users dashboarding tool. You can develop dashboards by exploting rich UI capabilites of excel, and make the workbook available through some office viewer component to give the feel of a dashboard to your users. Most enterprises would have MS Office license inevitably and the only cost challenge would be to figure out how you would make your excel based dashboard available to your users. Also if you have Excel Web App and Excel 2010, you have a kind of collaboration platform for your dashboard too.

Performancepoint Services is definitely not free, comes only with enterprise edition of MOSS 2010, has limited customization capabilites and skilled professionals on this tool would be scarcely available in the industry. I do not intend to convey that these options can replace PPS, but considering the reasons you would be looking out for free dashboarding tool, these options should be able to cater most of your requirements. If you are on the Microsoft platform and you are in hunt of free dashboarding tools, you should check your existing set of licensed tools and you might find that your best bet is just below your sleeve !!
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