A critical component in the BI system is the ability to take your source system data, clean it, and then load it into data your warehouse. It is this quality assured data that forms the backbone of your ‘single version of the truth’ in business intelligence. To achieve the timely loading of quality assured data a software program known generically as an ETL tool is used. We’ll take the SAP BusinessObjects suite as an example. The tool is based on an ETL program originally known as Data Integrator. Data Integrator is often used with another component tool known as Data Quality. As its name suggests Data Quality provides advanced data cleansing capabilities. Metadata Manager is a third component tool that can be used closely with Data Integrator to provide visibility into data lineage and data dependencies. There are several similar ETL tools in the market the best known of which are Informatica and Microsoft’s SQLServer Integration Serices (SSIS).
A dashboard can be thought of as a type of business cockpit. The dashboard can be corporate i.e. shared with several users or it can be personal for the consumption of the owner only. A dashboard usually provides an information summary of the corporate or user’s view of the world with hyperlinks to more detailed reports.
Corporate information can be consumed and shared through many different types of dashboard visualization. Examples of the information presented on a dashboard might be a list of KPIs, a balanced scorecard, a strategy map, alerts on statistical process charts, and data analytics.
Although a dashboard looks like a single component it will usually consist of several different components using widgets and reports integrated together seamlessly. An example of a canvas for building a dashboard is SAP BusinessObjects’ Dashboard Builder.
The most powerful dashboards are also designed to be interactive. In terms of SAP BusinessObjects they use an interactive dashboard tool known as Crystal Xcelsius (now renamed SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards). Once the Xcelsius Dashboard has been created it can become one of the many components on the main dashboard. When Xcelsius is combined with Query as a Web Service the data can be refreshed at the click of a button.
There are two main types of reporting used within Business Intelligence. These are ad hoc reporting and Enterprise Reporting. Whilst ad hoc reporting allows users to create and manipulate queries on the fly, Enterprise Reporting uses standardised reports with defined content; this type of report is often referred to as a pre-canned or standard report. The presentation and formatting of the report does not change but the data within it does.
An example of a pre-canned report might be the Daily Sales Figures report which as its name suggests contains the sales figures for the day. The report could be designed to present the sales figures through meaningful tables and charts. Every night the day’s sales figures would be loaded into the data warehouse and then the Daily Sales Figures report would refresh on an automated schedule and be distributed to all business users on the distribution list. In this way it is ready for them to read at 8 am when they arrive at the office. This process is known as Enterprise Reporting.
Although Enterprise Reports are referred to as pre-canned they can still be highly interactive and made to be fully refreshable at will. SAP BusinessObjects includes a world class Enterprise Reporting tool known as Crystal Reports.