How to Evaluate Web-based BI Solutions

Web-based business intelligence (BI) is no longer an anomaly: organizations are ready for BI solutions that go beyond Web portals. However, when selecting Web-based BI applications, organizations must evaluate architecture, rather than features or functions. What differentiators do you need to look for before embarking on a full-scale BI implementation? And which vendors offer the solution your organization truly needs?
Web-based BI is becoming mainstream. Organizations want to deploy BI solutions beyond Web portals. This report identifies emerging trends that make Web-based BI more pervasivewithin the industry, as well as the features and functionality to identify essential criteria in reporting and analysis, online analytical processing (OLAP), platform, and Web-based development and admin- istration tools. When selecting solutions in the emerging BI web space, organizations will evaluate architecture rather than features or functions. This report defines a framework to evaluate Web-based BI solutions. 

This report identifies and rates vendors across the following four areas:

Web-based development and administration tools 
Development tools allow IT administrators to develop end user reports, OLAP cubes, analyses, and performance management tools to allow end users to leverage BI tools. 

OLAP capabilities 
OLAP allows users to analyze data using dimensions and drilling through information to create different views to capture the required data. Generally, OLAP cubes are relegated to super users. However, they can be used to interact with reports and provide users with the ability to create customized reports by developing their cube views based on their business needs. 

Platform - technology and administration capabilities
Web-based platforms allow both administrators and end users to access and to modify BI requirements within a purely Web-based environment. Thus, the BI platform can be accessed via the Web, enabling access from the Internet without having to access an Intranet or internal network. 

Reporting and analysis 
In many cases, reporting and analysis represents the bulk of BI tools that are used by organizations. Organizations require the flexibility to analyze data in multiple ways, to change reporting parameters, to update data in real time to help drive business decisions, and to manage reports based on user responsibility and collaboration among teams. Reporting and analysis includes both pre-canned and ad- hoc reporting capabilities. 

Vendors represented are Business Objects and their Crystal Reporting products, Information Builders' WebFOCUS, LogiXML's Logi 8, and Microsoft's BI offerings deployed via SharePoint. Each offers varying degrees of Web-based reporting and analysis, with LogiXML being the only fully Web-based BI suite. 

 

Defining the Web-based Business Intelligence Space

Web-based BI is becoming more important within the BI industry, as organizations are looking for less invasive, and less expensive ways to benefit from reporting and analytics. Although most organizations implement traditional BI applications, use of the Internet to collaborate and to deliver reporting and OLAP is already a main element of software deployments. As the demand for Web 2.0, software as a service (SaaS), service-oriented architecture (SOA), and hosted applications has increased, organizations are increasingly examining Web-based applications. 

There are two approaches to Web-based BI delivery. The first involves portal delivery of BI reports and OLAP cubes, and the second is a true Web-based BI solution, fully deployed and maintained via the Web. From the user's perspective, the differences may seem minor, as the interface remains the same. The real difference is the back end and the fact that development and maintenance are Web-based. 

Key features of Web-based BI include the following: 

  • Delivery
    Organizations are able to deliver and to standardize their BI environments over the Internet through either approach. Hence, reporting, OLAP, and analysis are provided to users within a Web-based interface using a centralized platform. 
  • Development environment
    Web-based BI provides a centralized platform that is managed over the Web. Thus, organizations may reduce the need for (or have less concern about) server space and the management within a client server environment. 
     
  • Licensing structure
    Users may take advantage of more generous licensing structures based on processors or applications, as opposed to client and server architectures requiring limited user licenses that drive up software costs. 
     
  • Collaboration
    Web-based applications provide users with a single point of contact for reporting, analysis, OLAP, and collaboration.
     

Web-based Business Intelligence Market Drivers

Web-based BI market drivers include user demand for the following: 

  • Seamless distribution and upgrades
    Web-based BI solutions are upgraded easily and do not require downloads on user terminals to remain current. 
  •  Ease of use
    Web-based BI solutions leverage the intuitive nature of the Internet. Additionally, consistent user interfaces shorten the learning curve. 
  • Ubiquitous access
    Users can access information in an interactive, dynamic, and usable form from any location. 

Featured Software Research:

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