Posts Tagged 'data visualization'

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.

Tableau adds Maps and Web Application Integration

Last week I was wishing we could integrate Tableau interactive reports into our own web applications, and today I got an e-mail that appeared to be granting my wish. Tableau 4.0 was just released, and it includes the ability to integrate interactive reports into web applications.

They’ve also added maps to their feature-list–and the ability to auto-detect geographic data in a dataset and produce a geo-analytic report. What’s interesting about their maps is they don’t just use standard map backgrounds like Google Maps. They specifically created map backgrounds that won’t interfere with the view of the data–because these maps are for analysis, not navigation. I like how they keep their purpose first and foremost and tend to the needs of the user.

The other thing I was pleased with was they included four tabs of info about their new release–and one of them is labeled “usability”. It’s clear from looking at their solutions that the company pays a lot of attention to usability, but it’s always nice to see “Usability” called out as a key component of a software release.

What about licensing? The same pricing model applies, so each user of the application you integrate Tableau with has to be a licensed user of Tableau. Sigh. The salesperson says in the next version they’re planning more fully integrated applications … unfortunately, I don’t think we can wait that long … darn it! Why did they have to tease me like that?

 

Other posts on Tableau and Data Visualization / Metrics / Reporting:

Something to make Analysts Wet Their Pants

Visual analytics softwareI’m trying not to be too excited about this, but I am an analyst at heart and so it’s really hard for me to contain myself over this data visualization product I stumbled upon this morning. If I only knew how to link to our data sources, I would be exercising their 30-day trial to the max.

My task for the moment is to figure out how to build and deploy an operations metrics portal. Our biggest client wants real-time access to sales pipeline, product sales, and transaction numbers at the top level, but with the ability to drill-down into the data so he can see just how each customer is doing if he wants. We are using SugarCRM for our customer relationship management, so we were hoping to utilize that, but it just doesn’t meet our needs. Besides that we’ve discovered it’s pretty glitchy in some areas–it’s driving our QA guy (who happens to be my hubby) batty. I was thinking we may have to develop our own solution, which isn’t really even an option because our developers are completely swamped.

So I spent hours yesterday just searching for solutions that could help us. I looked at charting software like Visual Mining, Corda, Dundas, and Easy Charts. I looked at portal software, including Traction Teampage, DynaPortal, Intranet Dashboard, JBoss, Liferay, Metadot, DotNetNuke, and Apache Jetspeed. And it’s not that all these don’t offer good solutions–it’s just that they don’t make it really simple to analyze, visualize, and publish dashboards–in my case, operations metrics, but it’s extensible and useful for analyzing ANY data.

Ok, Ok, what is it already?

It’s Tableau. They offer a couple different products that I’m really itching to try: Tableau Desktop, which is what you use to build the visualizations, and Tableau Server, which allows you to publish your visualization to the web, with full Web-2.0-style interaction, filtering, and drilldown–in real time. What got me excited was:

·         It looks extremely powerful, easy, quick, flexible and does not require any programming time.

·         You can create many different kinds of data visualizations with their desktop product, then publish to the web.

·         There’s full application-level, view-level, and data-level security. You can publish to 1, 100’s or 1000’s of users.  You have full access control for every user at all levels. You can control who has access to the data, how they interact with the data, and how much/which data they have access to.

·         It can link to any data source: oracle, all sorts of other database formats, and even excel spreadsheets.

·         It has dynamic drilldown and filtering.

·         You can easily view the underlying data and copy/paste right into Excel–or copy a graph or chart for use in a powerpoint presentation.

I watched the Tableau Server demo and am just amazed at all the things this software can do by dragging and dropping and a few clicks of the mouse.

I immediately e-mailed some of my geeky analytical friends and am hoping they’ll try it out and tell me what they think of it. Anyone out there tried it yet? Please comment and let me know what you think.

Of course, I’ll post my thoughts (after I convince my boss to let me try it).