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4/5/2004
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BI Scorecard: Information Delivery

The BI Scorecard series continues with an evaluation of information delivery capabilities in six products.

This is part 3 of a multipart series comparing several major BI suites. For links to parts 1 and 2, see the Resources section at the end of the article.

Query and reporting allow you to transform raw data into powerful documents that facilitate action. Unless you put those documents into the hands of decision makers, however, the chain between data and action will be broken. In this continuing series, which has already examined query and report capabilities across several BI suites (see Resources), this latest segment looks at information delivery capabilities.

Two technologies have significantly affected enterprise information delivery: the Web and email.

In the past, information delivery consisted of walking to a printer and picking up a printout, or perhaps the mailroom hand-delivered a report to your desk. In the late 1990s, many companies implemented corporate intranets and began publishing standard reports to them. These initial reports may have been spreadsheet files or static BI reports saved in HTML format.

Today, BI reports are saved in the BI tool's native file format, allowing more interaction and the ability to refresh the data. The Web and email have also extended the reach of report delivery; whereas initial BI implementations of hundreds of users were once considered large scale, today large scale is tens of thousands. Thus, scalability is a key criterion when looking at information delivery capabilities: How many users must that one report reach and how will you reach them?

Scalability and Push/Pull

There's no easy way to evaluate vendor scalability, because the products scale in different ways, with different pinch points. Reviewing published benchmarks, checking customer references, and understanding the architecture are essential steps for evaluating whether a product will scale according to your expectations.

When assessing scalability requirements in terms of information delivery, you also need to consider how users will interact with the reports. A push (versus pull) approach has the BI tool generating reports on schedule and pushing the results to end users via a portal, email, or a wireless device. At first glance, the push approach seems like an ideal way to manage scalability, as IT can determine in advance when the bulk of BI processing is done. However, as one executive told me, he got so deluged with emailed reports, he now routinely deletes them and assumes that someone will call when there's a real problem! Clearly, the measure of success is not how many reports you can push, but rather, who actually uses them for decision-making.

Further, you must consider what you push to the users: a static PDF attachment or a URL to the BI report that exposes all the real-time interactivity capabilities of the BI tool. In the PDF scenario, the scalability requirements are less critical: The PDF generation is scheduled and users don't stress the BI application server when viewing a report. However, the URL scenario will demand significantly more scalability because users will interact with the BI application server.

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