Posts Tagged 'business intelligence'

Business Reporting Tools, Capabilities, and Pricing

Last week I was on a quest for “data visualization” tools, and I found quite a few reporting software solutions that might work for reporting our operations metrics. We’re looking for a solution that will enable us to pull data from various data sources and report sales metrics, support metrics, and production metrics in a web-based portal with user access controls.

We were thinking of trying out LogiXML’s free reporting tool, until we found that it required Microsoft IIS, and our server farm is all Linux boxes, so I had to go back to the drawing board. Tableau (at $15,000 + per-user fees of $150/user or $500/user, depending on how much interactivity you want that user to have) and Visual I|O ($50,000 – 100,000 — yikes!) were out of range, price-wise, and Logi Info (if we were to upgrade from Logi Report) can get pretty spendy too, if you need more than one of their products ($75,000 for the bundled set of products, not including the cost of the developers to build the solution once we had the tool). 

This week I’m trying out some new buzzwords to search on: “business intelligence” and “reporting software” which has found me a few more solutions and alternatives.

CrystalReports

I looked at CrystalReports.com, where you can create reports using CrystalReports on your desktop, then upload them to CrystalReports.com, eliminating the need for your IT department to host and maintain a reports server. Up to three users are free, but once you get beyond that, they charge $29.95 per user, with a minimum of 10 users. It links to your data sources and integrates with Salesforce.com (except we’re not using Salesforce.com …). Now maybe we could get by with three users, but it’s pretty unlikely, and do we really want to pay $300/month? Perhaps it’s worth it not to have the overhead and headache of hosting it ourselves, and it appears to be a solution that wouldn’t require any development resources at all, but I decided to continue my search and see what else is out there.

Intellicus

Intellicus pricing runs from a “couple hundred dollars to a few thousand” (is that a one-time fee? yearly? monthly? I don’t know …) and includes ad-hoc and standard reporting interfaces, dashboards, e-mail or text message alerts sent if one of your specified parameter crosses a threshold (defined by you), and report scheduling. It looks pretty comprehensive and it’s a java-based solution, so it will run on our Linux boxes. Another thing I thought was interesting was that they have a collaboration tool that allows users to comment on reports. They have a model that allows non-developers (report designers) to design reports and publish them. I also like that they don’t have a suite of products that I have to choose from. (Suites like what LogiXML offers confuse the issue and make it difficult to determine the true cost of the solution. What if, for example, we thought we needed Logi Info, but we really need the whole suite?)

Intelliview

Intelliview has a product suite, but it’s pretty easy to understand what each of them does. They have a report designer (about $600/each), an SDK, IntelliView Reporter (a portal that displays reports designed by the designer) and a report analyzer (as I understand it, this is software that report analysts install on their computer in order to analyze the reports). I’m not entirely sure what the cost is for all of this, but it sounds like it’s $849 per concurrent user for the SDK. I’ll have more details on that next week.

What I don’t like about these software vendor web sites

  • Some of these vendors have so much jargon and so many different software products, without clear explanation of what each product does. Perhaps they make sense on some level to them, but to an analyst who’s trying to decipher the differences between all these reporting software tools, it’s difficult sometimes to cut through the crap and determine what each of them is offering and how they compare. One vendor (i-strudel) I gave up on immediately after reading the first sentence: “With the entropy of information on rise, the fulcrum of decision making has shifted to one scenario amongst many.” Waaaaay too much thinking involved just to decipher what they’re trying to say! 
  • I don’t like that many of these reporting software vendors don’t openly disclose their pricing. It makes it very hard to do a comparison if I can’t tell what a solution costs. LogiXML and Crystalreports.com get points for that: they have pricing clearly displayed on their web sites. Tableau, Intellicus, IntelliView, and Visual I|O: they all made me provide quite a lot of personal information before they’d tell me anything about pricing, and even sometimes after I asked, they want to give me a demo before they’ll talk about pricing. That’s discouraging and can be a waste of time for both of us. If they put pricing on their web site, I could determine right away if they’re in our ballpark or off in left field somewhere. It blows me away how disparate the pricing is. What is it that makes a reporting solution worth $50,000 to $100,000 vs. $1,000? I’m really not sure yet, but that’s why I am asking the pricing question up front.

Data what?!? I just want to SEE the information!

We are all guilty of this (me too!), but how many of us get stuck in our buzz words and can’t get out? I alluded to this yesterday when I mentioned customer carewords, but I wanted to expound on that thought a little bit …

“Data visualization” is just a fancy word for getting big tables full of numbers into a format that users can understand and act on. In short, data visualization makes information usable. Throwing data into a chart or “dashboard” makes it easy for someone to see exactly what the data really says. It’s hard to tell, looking at a row of numbers, whether things are getting better or worse. Are we making our sales quotas? Are support calls too long? How well are we serving our customers? Are there any bottlenecks in our process?

Data visualization platforms like Tableau, LogiXML and their free reporting tool Logi Report, and PivotLink (the one I’m looking at today) give users more usable and interactive views of their information. So users can explore relationships, see different views of things, and root out answers to their questions. 

It doesn’t necessarily have to be business data, either. Scientists and researchers use data visualization a lot to help them uncover patterns and see results of a study. Most of us use weather maps and radar: another form of “data visualization”.

So what do users who want to see a visual picture of their information use for search terms? I am guessing it’s not “data visualization”. I know when I was searching for a tool like that, I knew exactly what I wanted, but I never thought of the words “data visualization”. (However, I’m pretty sure I’m not an average user–whatever that is.)

I wish I had some data on this to analyze … 😉

 

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