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3/12/2009
07:36 AM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Self-Service BI: Let Users Get on the (Soccer) Ball

Users don't want "ad hoc," as in starting at a blank screen with 1,000 possible data elements to choose from. No. Most information consumers want to interact with an existing report or dashboard as a starting point. Self-service BI means users don't have to go to IT for a relatively simple enhancement request to get a sort, filter, chart or new calculation added to the report.

You know that I am a big football fan, Packers in particular, because of my son, but everything I know about soccer (a.k.a. European football), I have learned from my English husband. What does this have to do with BI? Information Builders just launched this cool new soccer dashboard of the 2009 Champions League. As I wrote about rich reportlets in this Cool BI article, such an interactive report is what most users envision for self-service BI. Users don't want "ad hoc," as in starting at a blank screen with 1,000 possible data elements to choose from. No. Most information consumers want to interact with an existing report or dashboard as a starting point. Self-service BI means users don't have to go to IT for a relatively simple enhancement request to get a sort, filter, chart or new calculation added to the report.

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Figure 1
(click image for larger view)
The soccer dashboard uses Information Builder's Active Reports, an optional module first launched in 2006. Based on a combination of Java Script and XML (AJAX), users can save this file locally and still have a high degree of interactivity while disconnected. To launch, click the link "launch the full report" (you can do it live from the link above, but the starting point is pictured at right in Figure 1). To sort the data, you click the down arrow on each column. Want to know who has the most fouls? It's Atletico Madrid (Figure 2). This sort option is not something a programmer had to explicitly add to a report definition or user interface. Instead, it's automatically available when the report is saved or rendered as AJAX output in the same way you would save as PDF.

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Figure 2
(click image for larger view)
A bigger question of course is whether or not these fouls are worth it. Does aggression on the field result in more goals? With Active Reports, you can readily create a scatter plot (Figure 3) by right-clicking on the Foul column. The chart shows there is a "slight" relationship between higher number of fouls and goals scored. Unfortunately, the hover-over only shows the coordinates of 5 goals to 21 fouls. It would be better if the hover displayed that this is from the German team of Bayern.

I think you would agree, though, that this level of interactivity is a big improvement over some Web-based BI tools that seem to only automate former paper-based reports or that require users to go into a sophisticated design environment. For the record, while Information Builders was one of the first to provide such robust interactivity using AJAX, other vendors now have varying degrees of rich reportlets via Flash. Information Builders supports both AJAX and Flash output.

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Figure 3
(click image for larger view)
Sadly, so far the Brits are not looking too good in this. But we are only a few weeks into the tournament. Our favorite, Leeds United, never makes it to this level anyway, so I guess I should focus only on the BI aspects of this app! For a more in-depth review of Information Builders' BI capabilities, check out this BIScorecard report.

Regards, Cindi Howson, BIScorecardUsers don't want "ad hoc," as in starting at a blank screen with 1,000 possible data elements to choose from. No. Most information consumers want to interact with an existing report or dashboard as a starting point. Self-service BI means users don't have to go to IT for a relatively simple enhancement request to get a sort, filter, chart or new calculation added to the report.

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