Failing to monitor usage of the BI system is like driving your car at night with the headlights and the dashboard turned off. At worst, you (or the server) will crash. At best, you'll run out of gas (or the queries will fail). As BI vendors increasingly target enterprisewide deployments, they're beginning to provide usage monitoring. Initially, vendors recorded BI activity in log files that were rarely useful for analyzing usage. The ideal is when the data is captured in a relational database, and the vendor provides prebuilt reports. Furthermore, administrators should be able to determine which activities they want to monitor, ranging from the number of logins down to which individual objects are accessed by whom.
MicroStrategy, with its server-centric architecture, has been a leader in providing tools to monitor BI usage. Business Objects introduced its Auditor product in 2001. Cognos, Crystal, and Informatica have all introduced capabilities in the last six months. As shown in Figure 2 (see image here) Informatica PowerAnalyzer uses its dashboard capabilities to provide administrators a prebuilt dashboard that highlights current activity as well as historical trends such as longest running reports.
Hyperion Essbase and Microsoft still record information in log files only and provide no easy way for IT to interpret these logs. Although not reviewed in depth here, Hyperion Performance Suite provides some usage tracking stored in relational tables with prebuilt views.
Keep in mind that database monitoring and BI tool monitoring aren't the same thing. At the database level, you may be able to track how often the database field ORDER.QTY is accessed; within the BI application, you want to know which calculated metrics (such as "revenue," "average order amount," or "order quantity" that all access ORDER.QTY) users access most frequently, which standard reports, which viewing format, and peak load times. As I discussed in the Information Delivery segment (see Resources), the database load may be very different from the BI application server load.
In the first segment of this series, I discussed business views that help users build queries. The design tools for building the business views or OLAP cubes differ dramatically among the suites and there are a host of criteria to consider, such as version control, graphic representation of schemas, and wizards to build the models. Most design tools are client/server based, but a few such as Informatica and Hyperion Administration Services are Web-based. Also consider if the suite facilitates moving elements from development to test to production.
Next: Architecture and Wrap Up
Next is the seventh and final installment of this BI Scorecard series. I'll look at architectural differences between the suites. Having dug into the details of what these features mean and how the products differ, I'll finally answer the burning question: Who has the best BI suite for your company!
Cindi Howson is the president of ASK, a BI consultancy. She co-teaches The Data Warehouse Institute's "Evaluating BI Toolsets," publishes BI reviews at biscorecard.com, and is the author of Business Objects: The Complete Reference (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2003).