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Tableau: Story PointsTableau released the concept of Story Points in version 8.2 in June this year. With a story, a user can insert a visualization onto a canvas, with the saved filters. The idea of story points is to provide users with the ability to present the data as a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. The banner of the canvas can include a long-text that is clickable. For example, in the below story, "Profits are increasing" is a clickable title. Multiple visualizations can be linked together to create a PowerPoint-like slide show. Within each page, users can adjust the filters. "The data tells you what's happening, but the story guides you to an understanding of why," Tableau says in its white paper, "Data Storytelling."
Qlik: Story TellingQlik Sense Desktop was released in July 2014 as a free, desktop visual discovery tool based on the vendor's next-generation interface. The vendor has not announced release data for Qlik Sense for the enterprise, currently in beta. In Qlik Sense Desktop, dashboards and individual visualization can be added to a story. Compared to Tableau, Qlik Sense has a few more bells and whistles to its stories. First, each page of the story can contain multiple visualizations and/or snapshotted images versus a single visualization as in Tableau. Also, there is an "effect" option that automatically recolors a chart so top (or bottom) performers stand out (in the below image, higher salaries are highlighted). Additional text can be added to the story, whether a simple annotation or a full paragraph. Images and shapes can also be added to the canvas to create a type of infographic. In play mode, each slide nicely transitions to the next. Dashboards remain interactive.
SAP Lumira: Storyboards and InfographicsEarlier this year, SAP added the concept of storyboards to Lumira. While the name may suggest similar capabilities to Tableau and Qlik story telling, in SAP, storyboards are better described as dashboards with multiple visualizations on a single page. Up until that release, Lumira lacked the ability to create these simple dashboards, a capability in most other visual data discovery tools. In addition to visualizations and filters, Lumira storyboards also support text boxes for titles or paragraphs, and images.
Meanwhile, in version 16, released in June this year, SAP added infographics— the ability to add pictograms and shapes to the storyboards. As shown below, there is also a preview ability to see how the infographic will appear on various devices. With infographics, users can also set the color options for the images, background, and some charts. This, of course, should be an expected feature in any BI tool but was lacking in earlier Lumira releases. The infographic capability is an interesting concept, but I found the capabilities too immature to replace PowerPoint. For example, in trying to add a callout, the callout does not natively support text; the text has to be added in a separate text box. As well, the callout pointer cannot be repositioned to connect to the particular image or outlier within the chart.
SAS Visual Analytics: Power PointThe SAS Add-In for Microsoft Office is a little-known but powerful add-in that lets users access and interact with BI content directly from within Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint. With this approach, users create a visualization within SAS Visual Analytics. Then within PowerPoint, there is a Visual Analytics toolbar that lets them insert the visualization onto the PowerPoint canvas. The visualization is a direct query, not a static export, so it can be refreshed. Users have all the PowerPoint abilities to add text and additional images.
Stories: More to come?While each of these innovations goes by a similar sounding name, the capabilities differ. All reflect a growing trend of how to better present data, findings, and inflection points into a cohesive story. I suspect story capabilities will continue to emerge in other visual data discovery tools. Like any first novel, I suspect the second releases of these stories will only improving over time.
|Dashboards: multiple visual indicators on a single page|
|Infographic: visual representation of information, used beyond quantitative data such as in subway maps, weather patterns, and so on|
|Story: collection of thoughts with a beginning, middle and end|
Pay-as-you Go the New NormActuate is betting big on iHub F-Type. It's also betting big on a move to subscription-only pricing. Previously, Actuate offered both subscription and perpetual licenses. In the company's last quarterly investor call, CEO Pete Cittadini said that "going cold turkey to subscription … was the right thing to do." The move to subscription-based pricing is also a stated direction from competitor TIBCO in its acquisition of Jaspersoft in April this year. With BI cloud gaining momentum, customers and vendors alike seem more accepting of the pay-as-you-go model. I have always liked about subscription-based pricing for ensuring customers don't buy any more BI than they need, and conversely, for keeping a vendor focused on meeting the customer's needs. With perpetual licensing, customers risk shelf-ware and when dissatisfied with a product, the license is a sunk-cost with leverage only on a typical 22% annual maintenance fee.
Embedded BI: The Next WaveSelf-service BI and visual data discovery have been all the rage the last two years. These tools typically meet the needs of business analysts trying to mash multiple and new data sources together. At the other end of the user spectrum, front-line workers often consume data embedded within operational applications. In the past, reports and nuggets of data embedded within operational apps may have been custom developed. As these applications get refreshed, and with the growth of start-ups, embedded BI may be the next wave of BI growth. It is a BI segment that Actuate is specifically targeting, along with several other vendors: Jaspersoft, LogiAnalytics, Information Builders, and Oracle has identified this segment as a future direction. To make embeddability easier, in Actuate's F-Type, an "Integrate" button nicely allows a developer to cut and paste the requisite Java Script into custom apps or portals. Actuate may not have the mindshare of some of the bigger BI vendors, but they certainly have sown millions of seeds of developers. This latest offering seems a strong move to allow them to capitalize on that base of developers.
Visual Data Discovery, Take 2Enterprise reporting has long been the core of Information Builders capabilities. Aiming to better serve power users, the company announced a new visual data discovery interface, Info Discovery, now in beta and expected to be generally available in the fall (see the keynote here, demo at 55 minutes). This product joins a chorus of recent product releases from new entrants such as Logi Analytics with Logi Vision as well as Birst Visualizer. Vice President of Products Kevin Quinn thinks they will be the first vendor to support "governed visual data discovery," showcasing how their product integrates with the existing server infrastructure and security. To be fair, a few other vendors also have this integration, but arguably, most lack it. The vendor expects to have a free 30-day trial version. The output looked rather Tableau-like, with checkboxes, sliders, and some nice visuals (see screenshot). Some purists in the visualization community may protest the use of pie charts and red in green on the same widget; but I'll wait to see what's in the final GA product. here). It's not that I have a thing against ribbon bars per se; it's something to do with the fonts and design that just doesn't look as appealing as what I'm seeing in competitive products. Arguably, it's a subjective point, and for now, the vendor's argument is, "if you don't like our skin, you can change it." Info Discovery is not the vendor's first foray into visual data discovery. The vendor also OEM's technology from Advizor Solutions, integrated with Developer Studio and marketed as "Visual Discovery." That product had little adoption, which I think was due to a combination of limited marketing, ease of use, and flexibility. Let's see if the second time is the charm.
Build vs. BuyWhile visual data discovery may be a new focus for the company, the vendor is continuing to improve its core reporting capabilities. There aren't too many greenfield accounts in BI these days; companies of all sizes have at least some sort of BI deployment. However, one area where Information Builders is carving a new niche is in replacing what previously had been custom-built apps, often for thousands of users. To cite a few examples from the conference:
- Oklahoma Department of Human Services used WebFOCUS to replace previously Cobol custom application to track child support issues across the state
- Raintree Oncology assists doctors in dispensing prescriptions for cancer patients. Its new WebFOCUS application combines data from multiple, external sources (claims, prescriptions, clinical outcomes) . The multiple levels of security and ability to create its own branded application led them to Information Builders.
- Wendy's talked about their journey from mainframe, printed reports, in which sales and marketing was not particularly satisfied to now 6000 WebFOCUS users, with interactive reports and dashboards. The deployment requires only one BI administrator and supports district managers to shift supervisors; they expect to add another 4000 users this year. And did you ever wonder why they have square hamburgers? They don't cut corners. "A cut above" is the company's motto.
|Category||Main Products||Developers||Release Cycle|
|Enterprise BI||SAP BusinessObjectsCrystal ReportsDashboards Design Studio||600||6 to 12 months|
|Agile Analytics||LumiraExplorer||200||6 to 8 weeks|
|Advanced Analytics||Infinite Insight (KXEN)Predictive Analysis||100|
- InfoGraphics, an evolution to Stories that combines visualizations, with text and images, and a greater degree of formatting
- Direct connect to on-premises HANA and BW data from Lumira Cloud
- Support for MAC , with the beta available mid June
- Free hand SQL. This is huge, but as I've heard it as a roadmap item for a couple of years now, I won't hold my breath until I see the beta.
- Live Office support for newer universes created in 4.x (.UNX); this has been a hole in the product portfolio since version 4 was first released in 2012. Microsoft added support for universes in Power Query last month, a partial solution for long-time Live Office users.
- Parity in the DHTML and Java client WebI interfaces
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