Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pentaho Hosted Demo

The Pentaho Hosted Demo went well.

First and foremost, every time I tried to login, the first attempt failed. I always had to backtrack and login again because the site would just hang at “Just a few moments please.” This is extremely frustrating. I was only able to get in every once in a while. Not cool. Also, the timeout is fairly low – I think I even got booted once while watching a tutorial video!

The demo, naturally, is targeted at Business Analysts. That means it’s more functional and less technical. As a Data and Business Intelligence specialist, I had lots of questions initially. However, I got the gist of what was going on from the demo. Clearly this demo site wouldn’t help me install and configure a Pentaho server, but it would help me connect to data sources and build some reports.

One thing to note here is that there are some terms used that aren’t defined well on the demo site. Terms such dimensions and measures. These are specialized jargon used in the database industries. However, I’ve had to explain the terms to every Business Analyst I’ve ever met. I don’t think they are common terms on the Business side of the house. Let me quickly explain these terms using analogies.
  1. A dimension (which has nothing to do with dimensions as in Star Trek or The Twilight Zone) is like the horizontal axis on a chart. A dimension is a “thing” so to speak, like time, people, houses and so on. 
  2. A measure is like the values that are inside the chart. These are typically numbers – anything that can be counted, really. A measure is a “value”, like $52, 30.525. If you’re just counting “things” (like dimensions, say, fruit) the value can just be 1 – which perhaps indicates “it exists.” Measures can be additive (meaning they can be summed across any dimension), semi-additive (they can be summed across only some dimensions), or non-additive (they cannot be summed at all). Please consult the information superhighway for more information. 
The demo site itself is minimalist and well-designed. It has the now standard soft-gradient look. There is an intro video and several tutorial videos. Each one is about 5 minutes long and gives actual, functional information. In less than 30 minutes, any Business Analyst should be able to create an interactive report, an analyzer report, and a dashboard.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with those terms, I’ll break them down.
  1. An interactive report is a fairly standard report (a grid, a matrix, a chart) that can be filtered using – as Pentaho calls them – prompts. Prompts in other systems are known as parameters or run-time options.
  2. An analyzer report is much more interactive report that allows drill-downs. In fact, let’s say you click on a country: USA. If you have your data hierarchies set up correctly, the report will drill down to states. Pick Colorado and it will further drill down to cities. This type of report is dynamic and allows data to be "sliced and diced" as the saying goes.
  3. A dashboard is a collection of charts and graphs. Each graph or chart is shown in a panel. The panels can be moved around, made larger, smaller, or reshaped. Colors and indicators are integral to dashboards. The whole point of a dashboard is to give basic, high-level information. A red color is often used to indicate to the viewer, “hey, pay attention to this!” 
Somewhere during the middle of the demo, I got a call from a Pentaho rep. My one big question was this: how do I publish one of these reports or dashboards? Is there a plugin or is there some sort of widget that will allow me to integrate this into a webpage? What if I’ve created a marketing website and I want to show off my numbers. Can I throw a dashboard into that webpage easily? Or is Pentaho an data exploration tool meant for internal use only?

He couldn’t answer the question, unfortunately. It sounds like publication is not a major part of Pentaho’s business model. If it’s not, then the product will unfortunately not be useful to me. I have plenty of tools for data exploration that do the exact same thing (Power View jumps to mind). What I need is a way to get these interactive reports and dashboards on a website! Anyway, he said he’ll get back to me with that information.

UPDATE: Embedding Pentaho in a webpagesounds way more complicated than I was hoping.

Open Source Business Intelligence: Pentaho

Pentaho Demo? Looks sweet. 
Business Intelligence has been around for a few years, but the underlying foundation of BI has been around forever. Since data has existed, businesses have wanted to summarize that data and extract valuable information from it like blood from a stone. When modern accounting was codified by Luca Pacioli in the 15th century, he demonstrated not only the double-entry book-keeping system but also ways to summarize that data. You could even go back to Mesopotamia to see early reports.

Wait. BI is just reporting?

Why, yes. That's true. In fact. However, BI tends toward the more modern, the more technical, the more visual, the more flashy. Also, BI might lean a little bit more towards the ... intelligent side of things. KPIs and such.

What kind of offerings does Microsoft have out there?

Excel and SharePoint has some really awesome BI tools thanks to Microsoft's recent initiatives. They want to compete with SAP, Tableau Software, and so forth. But guess what? Those tools are massively expensive and SharePoint is ridiculously hard to install and configure. (There's an MCSE for SharePoint if that gives you any clue).

So what's the cure to all software expensive? Open source, of course.

The one that looks most intriguing right now? I just found Pentaho Community. It looks pretty slick. I'm about to try the Pentaho Hosted Demo. Wish me luck! I'll report back -- if I make it back!

UPDATE: Here's a direct link to the Pentaho demo. Username and password are under the link that says "Login as an Evaluator."