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9/29/2005
01:37 PM
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No Such Thing As A Stupid Question

What's that term they use to describe a question that's put forward clearly and simply? Oh yes, I just remembered: "in plain English." Wouldn't it be cool to make database queries in plain English? Well, it looks like you may be able to.

What's that term they use to describe a question that's put forward clearly and simply? Oh yes, I just remembered: "in plain English." Wouldn't it be cool to make database queries in plain English? Well, it looks like you may be able to.Business Objects debuted Release 2 of its BusinessObjects XI platform this week (or at least, they started talking about it out to reporters and such folks -- the actual availability isn't until November). Like Cognos, with its recent release of easier-to-use Cognos 8, Business Objects is pushing simplicity as a way of driving business intelligence out to more end users -- the less tech-savvy kind, for instance. I got a briefing from the good folks at Business Objects on Release 2, and I'll tell you straight up that the most fun component of the new tool is its "Intelligent Question" function.

As this overview from Rick Whiting explains, the new update is designed to let employees besides IT's business intelligence pros develop their own analytical queries.

Here's how it works: Intelligent Question is a structured questioning environment that builds the question you want to ask through the use of pull-downs set beneath each word in an actual query sentence. The tool is built on top of the semantic layer. It tracks questions that have been asked before and "favorite questions." Here's an example of a sentence you might put together in order to query your database: "Show me my customers who are top five buyers based on net sales from quarter before last." Most words in the sentence are drawn from their own pull-downs.

Will it sell? Business Objects already has customers at the ready who are talking about how much they love it. But every software release comes with such sources, ready-made for the media, at its outset. To me it depends on just how important "operational BI" is going to be in the future. Will we really see information workers querying databases on their own willy-nilly in the future? I think we will. Business Objects -- and Cognos, and others that are yet to debut their new BI platforms -- are pushing the market in that direction.

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