Reporting

A successful reporting platform implementation in a business intelligence environment requires great attention to be paid from both the business end users and IT professionals.
The fact is that the reporting layer is what business users might consider a data warehouse system and if they do not like it, they will not use it. Even though it might be a perfectly maintained data warehouse with high-quality data, stable and optimized ETL processes and faultless operation. It will be just useless for them, thus useless for the whole organization.

The problem is that the report generation process is not particularly interesting from the IT point of view as it does not involve heavy data processing and manipulation tasks. The IT professionals do not tend to pay great attention to this BI area as they consider it rather 'look and feel' than the 'real heavy stuff'.
From the other hand, the lack of technical exposure of the business users usually makes the report design process too complicated for them.
The conclusion is that the key to success in reporting (and the whole BI environment) is the collaboration between the business and IT professionals.

Types of reports

Reporting is a broad BI category and there is plenty of options and modes of its generation, definition, design, formatting and propagation.

The report types can be divided into several groups, illustrated below:

Standard, static reports

  • Subject oriented, reported data defined precisely before creation
  • Reports with fixed layout defined by a report designer when the report is created
  • Very often the static reports contain subreports and perform calculations or implement advanced functions
  • Generated either on request by an end user or refreshed periodically from a scheduler
  • Usually are made available on the web server or a shared drive
    Sample applications: Cognos Report Studio, Crystal Reports, BIRT

    Ad-hoc reports

  • Simple reports created by the end users on demand
  • Designed from scratch or using a standard report as a template
    Sample applications: Cognos Analysis Studio

    Interactive, multidimensional OLAP reports

  • Usually provide more general information - using dynamic drill-down, slicing, dicing and filtering users can get the information they need
  • Reports with fixed design defined by a report designer
  • Generated either on request by an end user or refreshed periodically from a scheduler
  • Usually are made available on the web server or a shared drive
    Sample applications: Cognos PowerPlay, Business Objects, Pentaho Mondrian

    Dashboards

  • Contain high-level, aggregated company strategic data with comparisons and performance indicators
  • Include both static and interactive reports
  • Lots of graphics, charts, gauges and illustrations
    Sample applications: Pentaho Dashboards, Oracle Hyperion, Microsoft SharePoint Server, Cognos Connection Portal

    Write-back reports

    Those are interactive reports directly linked to the Data Warehouse which allow modification of the data warehouse data.
    By far the most often use of this kind of reports is:

  • Editing and customizing products and customers grouping
  • Entering budget figures, forecasts, rebates
  • Setting sales targets
  • Refining business relevant data
    Sample applications: Cognos Planning, SAP, Microsoft Access and Excel

    Technical reports

    This group of reports is usually generated to fulfill the needs of the following areas:

  • IT technical reports for monitoring the BI system, generate execution performance statistics, data volumes, system workload, user activity etc.
  • Data quality reports - which are an input for business analysts to the data cleansing process
  • Metadata reports - for system analysts and data modelers
  • Extracts for other systems - formatted in a specific way
  • Usually generated in CSV or Microsoft Excel format
  • Examples of BI dashboards

    Reporting platforms

    The most widely used reporting platforms:

  • IBM Cognos
  • SAP Business Objects and Crystal Reports
  • Oracle Hyperion and Siebel Analytics
  • Microstrategy
  • Microsoft Business Intelligence (SQL Server Reporting Services)
  • SAS
  • Pentaho Reporting and Analysis
  • BIRT - Open Source Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools
  • JasperReports
  • Qlickview