BI Scorecard: Reporting Capabilities - InformationWeek
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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.

For notes on evaluation methodology and selection of products to evaluate, please see Part 1.

Reporting has a reputation for being, frankly, boring. The reams of uninspiring paper once spewed from mainframe printers created so much raw data that they were rarely useable for decision-making. Staring at a piece of paper rarely leads to action. Analysis, conversely, leads to action — which is what most report consumers strive for.

The good news is that reports are changing. Just as cars went from purely utilitarian machines to icons of luxury and brilliant engineering, so today's reports enable swifter, more competitive action.

In the first segment of this BI Scorecard product review series, I looked at query features of major BI tools — the core functionality that lets you get the data out of your data warehouse or source systems. (See Resources.) In this second segment, I will examine reporting features of the same six major BI products — features that transform a plain result set into a highly formatted document that more readily helps you identify trends, exceptions, and thus business opportunities. Table 1 scores key reporting features.

Table 1. Scorecard comparing reporting capabilties of several BI suites.

Production and Management Reports Merge

Historically, reporting has been broken into two market segments: management reporting for internal decision-making and production reporting to generate operational documents such as invoices, bank statements, or statutory documents.

However, as BI technology has matured with user needs, vendors are moving to offer both capabilities in an integrated toolset. Take, for example, a production report consumer who gets an unusually high energy invoice; the consumer immediately wants to analyze it — to compare it to the last month's invoice. Even better, the energy provider should add a nice trend chart on the invoice that graphically displays changes in power consumption.

In the past, activities like drilling into last month's invoice details and charting were capabilities largely reserved for management reporting. So in 2003, vendors that historically focused on management reporting have moved into the production reporting space through acquisitions and new product launches that emphasize how these capabilities shouldn't require separate tools.

Document Complexity

With expanded user expectations comes the need for reporting tools to support complex documents, enabling you to take raw query data and present it in multiple ways within one page or report. For example, you may want to see detailed tabular data of open orders alongside a pie chart that shows percentage of open, late, or on-time shipments. However, if you are designing an invoice, you don't want a table at all. Instead you want to control where individual components appear on a page.

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