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BI Scorecard: Reporting Capabilities

Reporting used to be boring, but no more. Our BI Scorecard series takes a comparative look at reporting features.
The navigation features within Informatica PowerAnalyzer are quite unique. Rather than drilling from one report to another, PowerAnalyzer uses the concept of "workflows." Users see a list of reports to choose from rather than only being able to choose from one static subreport. One main report can have multiple workflows, offering much more navigation flexibility. Individual report interactivity is a bit cumbersome and lacks a FIND and outline view.

Formulas and Functions

In an ideal world, data warehouse data modelers would precisely predict every calculation and transformation end users want. These would be defined in the database to ensure maximum reuse and efficient processing. In reality, a lot of the intelligence occurs in the report, and if you are accessing an OLTP system, it has to. When evaluating BI tools, keep in mind there are three places that formulas and functions may be used: in the metadata layer, the query, or the report. Because these formulas can be defined in different places, who defines them (an administrator versus a user) and how they get processed also differ. Ideally, a BI tool will provide a full function set in all three places, but, unfortunately, few do.

Business Objects enables different sets of functions for its "universe" (metadata), query, and report-based calculations.

Cognos ReportNet uses one set of functions for all three possible calculation locations.

Informatica shows its ETL roots in that it currently expects most calculations to be done as part of the ETL process. Within the reporting tool, Informatica is limited primarily to simple aggregate calculations such as sum, average, and count — although there is standard deviation and if-then-else logic. Informatica plans to provide 200+ functions in a mid-year release.

MicroStrategy is limited this way as well, particularly in the Web product. Desktop users can create more metrics but only project administrators can define new attributes.

Other Considerations

Document complexity, charting, interactivity, and formulas and functions are just a few of the report features that differ among major BI vendors. Other aspects such as conditional formatting, relative positioning, and style sheets are additional reporting features that affect report design.

More to Come

In the next issue, I'll look at information delivery capabilities — features that determine how these powerful documents reach end users.

Cindi Howson [[email protected]] is the president of ASK, a BI consultancy. She coteaches The Data Warehouse Institute's "Evaluating BI Toolsets" and is the author of Business Objects: The Complete Reference (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2003).


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