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Business Intelligence Forum Report

Have you ever stared at a screen and wondered:  "I know the data I want is in there, but how do I get it a format that makes sense to me...when I need it?"

If so, you'll be happy to hear that ACS has big plans to enhance the whole area of Business Intelligence.  To aid in that development, we conducted a Business Intelligence Forum on Wednesday, October 8th.  It was well attended, with 24 individuals representing 16 Advantage clients.  As with past Advantage forums, the purpose of this session was for ACS to present product enhancement ideas in order to get feedback from you?our clients?on those ideas.  Your thoughts are critical to us because we want Advantage to continue to meet your evolving needs and to help your business to prosper and grow.

To get started on the right foot, we needed a working definition of Business Intelligence (BI).  In my typically brilliant fashion, I borrowed from another's definition to suggest that Business Intelligence deals with the kind of reporting related to helping individuals make business decisions.  Contrasting this with operational reports and detailed transaction reports may help clarify.  For example, a "Daily Briefing" bar-chart showing sales volumes for each of the last seven days relative to this year's current daily average gives you the kind of information that could help you to make decisions, whereas a detailed listing of each sale by customer type - although good information to have - is less useful in decision-making.

Dick Hile, VP of Product Engineering, jumped in to show some examples of the types of analysis ACS is considering.  In addition to the Daily Briefing, Dick presented examples of a Trend Analysis view, a Comparison report, and a Snapshot view.  Whereas a Daily Briefing would show activity over a short period of time, a Trend Analysis view covers a much longer period of time ? such as a year.  A Comparison view could compare activity over the same period in two different years, or two similar entities at a point in time (e.g. circulation status for two different subscribed products side by side).  Dick also displayed desktop gadgets showing up-to-the-minute summaries, which were big attention-getters for the attendees.

Dick then went on to explain what is going on "under the hood".  The Advantage BI module is built on the tools found in MS SQL Server 2008 (building on any prior investment in SQL Server and Excel you may have made).  These tools would be used to:

  • Collect data needed by the various BI reports and store it in a data warehouse.  The benefit of this approach is to simplify report building by reducing the available fields to just those needed and by giving those fields more meaningful labels.  If the data warehouse is stored on a different server, a second benefit is to minimize activity on the Advantage production database.

  • Build a summarized data store (data cube).  For reports needing to process a lot of transactional data, this method will make reports run faster.

  • Present available reports in a simple and organized way to end-users via their web browser.

MS SQL Server 2008 offers some very useful features not found in prior versions.  Our BI approach provides scalability by allowing the BI components to be installed on your Advantage server, or to be spread out across several servers.  It's up to you.  ACS will be benchmarking a single-server configuration similar to what we expect many clients to deploy initially.  We will share the results of the benchmark to date at the January AUG conference.

Tim Zapawa, VP of Client Services, joined Dick and me for the discussion period.  During this session, the attendees offered some very valuable comments.  The general tone expressed indicated high interest in this step forward.  Also, many expressed their support of using MS SQL Server as the standard "engine," yet had some reservations regarding the cost of needed infrastructure.  This is just the type of feedback ACS is looking for, and we are addressing it.  To ensure that this module will not require significant hardware and infrastructure expense, we are designing it to run on a single server.  However, as stated earlier, it will be your choice whether to run it on one server or more.

We asked the participants to confer with their colleagues and send more suggestions to ACS on what type of reports they would like to see in the BI module, and we encourage you to do the same.  We can't wait to incorporate the feedback and then show you our progress towards getting a full suite of BI reports rolled out to the user community at the AUG meeting in January.  We'll give an update on BI Module development including deployment options, supported reports, and target delivery revisions.  We're excited already about showing you the prototype and discussing release dates with you.  Make your plans for the AUG conference now -- you won't want to miss it!

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