Reporting Tool Selection
There is a wide variety of reporting requirements, and whether to buy or build a reporting tool for your business intelligence needs is also heavily dependent on the type of requirements. Typically, the determination is based on the following:
Data is useless if all it does is sitting in the data warehouse. As a result, the presentation layer is of very high importance.
Most of the OLAP vendors already have a front-end presentation layer that allows users to call up pre-defined reports or create ad hoc reports. There are also several report tool vendors. Either way, pay attention to the following points when evaluating reporting tools:
In general there are two types of data sources, one the relationship database, the other is the OLAP multidimensional data source. Nowadays, chances are good that you might want to have both. Many tool vendors will tell you that they offer both options, but upon closer inspection, it is possible that the tool vendor is especially good for one type, but to connect to the other type of data source, it becomes a difficult exercise in programming.
In a realistic data warehousing usage scenario by senior executives, all they have time for is to come in on Monday morning, look at the most important weekly numbers from the previous week (say the sales numbers), and that's how they satisfy their business intelligence needs. All the fancy ad hoc and drilling capabilities will not interest them, because they do not touch these features.
Based on the above scenario, the reporting tool must have scheduling and distribution capabilities. Weekly reports are scheduled to run on Monday morning, and the resulting reports are distributed to the senior executives either by email or web publishing. There are claims by various vendors that they can distribute reports through various interfaces, but based on my experience, the only ones that really matter are delivery via email and publishing over the intranet.
Every one of us has had the frustration over spending an inordinate amount of time tinkering with some office productivity tool only to make the report/presentation look good. This is definitely a waste of time, but unfortunately it is a necessary evil. In fact, a lot of times, analysts will wish to take a report directly out of the reporting tool and place it in their presentations or reports to their bosses. If the reporting tool offers them an easy way to pre-set the reports to look exactly the way that adheres to the corporate standard, it makes the analysts jobs much easier, and the time savings are tremendous.
The most common export needs are to Excel, to a flat file, and to PDF, and a good report tool must be able to export to all three formats. For Excel, if the situation warrants it, you will want to verify that the reporting format, not just the data itself, will be exported out to Excel. This can often be a time-saver.
Most people are used to work with Microsoft Office products, especially Excel, for manipulating data. Before, people used to export the reports into Excel, and then perform additional formatting / calculation tasks. Some reporting tools now offer a Microsoft Office-like editing environment for users, so all formatting can be done within the reporting tool itself, with no need to export the report into Excel. This is a nice convenience to the users.