There are a few considerations when starting a journey to effective Business Intelligence:
GETTING YOUR DATA REPORT READY
One of the hardest things about BI is getting your data from operational systems into a format you can report on. There are a few main ways you could do this:
- Use the tools built into your application to produce reports or extracts into a spreadsheet and manipulate from there.
- Directly query the data from your system.
- Use a Data Warehouse for reporting.
This list isn’t exhaustive but gives a guide on some of the main options available.
Option 1 has a couple of drawbacks to it, you can only report on one system at a time and it still requires a specific set of skills to get the reports set up for the business. There’s also the assumption that the system supports this kind of reporting.
Option 2 is a complex one and in my experience is not sustainable as demand grows. The complexity of the queries gets bigger with each requirement and normally results in a large performance hit on any system you’re querying. It’s also hard to maintain accuracy across all of your code and leads to inconsistency across reports. In small businesses, this might be acceptable but any large organisations are going to feel a lot of pain with this approach.
Option 3 is normally the preferred option. It can join data from multiple systems and you can apply logic so your reports are generated from consistent logic and data. The drawback is it’s expensive and specific skills are needed to implement and maintain.
We’ve been using Yellowfin for a few weeks and we think it’s a great middle ground, it gives you the majority of what you need from a Data Warehouse but without the complexity – it’s not a Data Warehouse so you won’t be able to do complex transformations or standardisation but if the DW solution seems too complex and costly then Yellowfin’s definitely worth a look.
Yellowfin uses ‘Views’ which are created by bringing in your data direct from your system with the fields you want and applying any formulas and logic you need. The different sources can then be joined during report creation. It depends on the amount of data and systems your business has as to whether this option suits but we’ve so far found it very flexible.
CONSISTENT DATA, CONSISTENT REPORTS
One of the major problems with reports are different parts of businesses go rogue when it comes to BI. This means different logic used throughout the business and different teams get different answers to the same question. System extracts or point in time data tends to get re-used and it becomes difficult to work out if the information you have is the current version.
The concept of Views in Yellowfin allow you to connect multiple reports to one place. All of your logic is applied at the view level so anyone creating and reading reports will get the same dataset with logic applied and because your view connects to your source system it ensures that the data is current.
Different parts of the business will want reports at different times. If you don’t have an effective way to manage this it can become cumbersome and time consuming. This is something that’s normally solved by a Data Warehouse and there’s two ways to solve it. Either pull the data when you want it, i.e. User opens the report. Or schedule it to send out to recipients as needed.
With Yellowfin you can do both. A user can log in to see the most up to date version and reports can be scheduled with recipients on a defined schedule.
RELIANCE ON I.T. SUPPORT
A lot of business users want to be empowered to research their own BI. They want access to the data and want answers to their questions quickly, a lot of the time the centralised support can’t keep up and this results in getting data using the wrong channels. The answer to this is self-service BI – give them access to data which can be centrally controlled and consistent logic applied. This gives them the freedom to explore but the logic and data is consistent.
Yellowfin is designed as a self-service BI product, it allows access to the data using defined views and logic and allows people to explore as they need and because it’s centrally stored and managed, information is never lost and is always up to date – coupled with the social side of the application it’s a really powerful tool.