Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Introduction to BI Office from Pyramid Analytics

BI Office, from Pyramid Analytics, is a business intelligence and analytics tool that includes four main components, all provided within a web-based application:

  • Data Discovery allows a user to connect to an SSAS data model (tabular or multidimensional) to create reports using grids, charts, advanced visualizations, gauges (based on KPI’s), and maps (using the Bing mapping service). Reports get saved into a book (a term familiar to any who ever used or heard of ProClarity), which is managed within the content management system (folders maintained within a BI Office repository).
  • Story Board provides a dashboarding tool that allows a user to create dashboards (or story boards) based on a “slide” paradigm. Each slide can contain report content from books created using the Data Discovery component plus other assets like images, logos, text, buttons of various types, etc. Dashboards can be saved and managed within the content system as well.
  • Publication gives a user the ability to do two things. First, users can create print-ready reports using content from Data Discovery books along with document-like constructs including headers, footers, paragraphs of text (and even dynamic text that is based on SSAS data model queries), etc.  And secondly, users can create alerts that provide contextual notifications to users based on data model queries (for example, notifying a user that a value in a cube is rising or falling).  Publication documents and alerts can be scheduled for execution and distributed via email or saved back into the content management system.
  • Data Model allows a user to create a mash-up of data via a wizard interface that walks the user through creating an SSAS tabular model.  Users can select from various data sources, combine tables/data sets from those sources, include calculations, etc. as they define their model.  Once models are created, they can be uploaded to an SSAS tabular server and scheduled for recurring refreshes.  These data models can then be used as sources for Data Discovery reports (which can then be used for analysis, included in dashboards, added to publications, etc.)

As mentioned above, the BI Office components exist within a web-based application that today uses Silverlight technology; thankfully, Pyramid Analytics has indicated that a future version will be based on HTML5 instead.  That said, the existing web-based application is extremely functional and works fine for most Microsoft-centric organizations – which is where BI Office fits best given its dependence on SQL Server technologies.  The BI Office system uses SQL Server to house its repository (as a typical SQL Server database) and the Data Discovery component can only connect to SSAS data models (whether multidimensional or tabular models created using Visual Studio and deployed to an SSAS server or those tabular models created by users using the Data Model component).

Beyond the major components, BI Office includes several compelling features that make it a very capable and interesting BI application:

  • Business logic in the form of custom measures, custom members, custom sets, and even KPI’s can be defined and managed within the BI Office content management system. These business logic items are associated with the SSAS data model they relate to so that users can share definitions created using the BI Office client. This allows users to extend the SSAS data models beyond the original design created by the SSAS developers.
  • Beyond the standard charts typical to just about any BI and data analytics tool, BI Office includes several advanced visualizations including color/heat maps, sunburst diagrams, waterfall and pareto charting, word clouds, cluster-packing diagrams, and more. Any of these advanced visualizations can be used in reports, dashboards, or publications.
  • BI Office provides social connectivity that allows users to communicate and collaborate via comments and annotations to any of the grids, charts, or other types of reporting content – whether made available via a book of reports or added to an interactive dashboard. Note that social connectivity can be integrated into BI Office using Yammer, Jive, Chatter, or the built-in BI Office collaboration engine.
  • Mobile BI capabilities are provided via the BI Office Mobile application available for mobile devices running iOS, Android, WinRT, or Windows 8.1. The mobile application allows users to not only view and analyze reports and dashboards, but also act on the information available using the same type of interactive actions that the web-based application provides (drill-down, expand/collapse, dice, filter, sort, etc.)
  • R has become a de facto standard for extending data analytics and BI tools, and BI Office is no different.  That said, BI Office makes it extremely easy for users to take advantage of standard forecasting and clustering algorithms via simple menu selections in the Data Discovery component. Beyond that, however, users can also customize the R scripts used via those menu selections in order to take advantage of more complex packages and algorithms available via R.

In future posts, I’ll go into more details about each of the major components as well as the additional features listed above.  For now, if you are interested in learning more about BI Office and/or downloading a trial copy, feel free to hit the Pyramid Analytics website at https://www.pyramidanalytics.com.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Starting a New Pyramid Analytics Series

For those who don’t necessarily know, I am a consulting resource to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Over the years, I’ve helped architect the data warehouse environment within the VA, designed the ETL infrastructure and a data distribution application, and generally assisted in various technology arenas as one of the chief architects within the BI organization there. For the last 12 months (or so), I’ve led the implementation of BI Office (from Pyramid Analytics) within the VA, providing an on-premise, self-service analytics reporting and dashboarding environment. At present, we have over 28,000 users, over 115,000 reports, and over 21,000 pages (or slides) within over 2,000 dashboards. Granted, some of those reports and dashboards were created by individual users for individual use (given the self-service nature of BI Office), but a lot of them were created for organizational use.

Given my work with BI Office over the last year, I thought it might be interesting to blog about some of our experiences with it internally at the VA. I won’t necessarily be able to discuss specific report or dashboard designs or talk about specific data used within the VA, but I’ll instead focus on what BI Office has to offer, what its strengths (and weaknesses) are, and how others might be able to take advantage of it if they are looking for a good on-premise self-service analytics tool…

One final note: I won’t necessarily be comparing BI Office to other solutions like QlikView, Tableau, or even Power BI. I don’t have the experience necessary to craft any comparisons to those other tools. If anyone reading this feels the need to comment about how those tools do this or that better, feel free – but I likely won’t take the time to acknowledge or comment otherwise.

With that said, look for my first post about BI Office within the next few days :-)