BI And The Web API

BI applications have always been at the forefront of UI design, and now they're at the leading edge of the battle between thick desktop and thin Web clients. We track the trends between thick and thin in the world of BI.
Design Migrates Down the BI Pyramid

Another major trend in the BI interface is the move to portal outlets and the subsequent need to provide more customization and dynamic design features lower down in the reporting process. Actuate's Clenahan cited this trend. "Vendors' initiatives to provide more capabilities to a thin-client application will certainly shift more and more advanced features into the thin-client world," he said. Already, many vendors supply output to Excel in their OLAP and reporting tools. Now these vendors are supplying Excel-like query and report sorting/styling capabilities through Web-based thin clients.

JavaScript, Java and Flash -- all Web-oriented tools -- allow BI vendors to deliver customizations and styling that can be handled locally. And if the data has been cached in XML or some other data format, that can include broader queries and data filtering without the delays of having to re-query the server.

Some vendors are including what can be thought of as design dialogs/pop-ups in their output. These pop-ups allow fairly radical changes to the nature of the report or chart (or both). These pop-up designers almost inevitably require a complete re-query back at the server. But they do allow savvy users to get the data and reports they want more quickly -- there's no waiting for IT to create a report for them. Of course, the best option is complete designer tools embedded in the Web API, which a few vendors are starting to support.

Jacques Surveyer is a consultant and trainer; see some of his tips and tutorials at