I wrote about my deep-dive into the Microsoft BI-Stack last week, in which I illustrated how deep in memory computing becomes a real danger to our traditional data warehousing especially in small to midsize organizations. Today, I would like to continue some of these thoughts and combine them with an article about the general aspects of reporting I wrote a few weeks earlier.
Business Intelligence (BI), Business Analytics (BA) and other terms describe software technologies and implementations of these that process data and turn them into information using computer systems. While they all process data, the difference is what type of information they can generate. In its simplest form, we talk about plain reporting, in which we perhaps take our sales numbers, add them up, calculate the average order size or calculate order fill rates and profit margins. This type of evaluations is easily possible using spreadsheet applications like MS-Excel.
BI and BA systems can do much more though. They can process information in a way that you could not possibly do manually. Microsoft recently advanced SQL Server (since MS-SQL 2008) to process so called ‘spatial data’, which in laymen terms are geo data. With these enhancements, the data stored in a database is no longer a stupid address anymore, it is a computer known location on this planet, and I can do a lot with that information. I can draw simple maps with my customer base using that information. I could evaluate average sales per location and compare those with the average sales of the 5 stores located closest to each location. You can link each address to the administrative districts in the country (state, County, City, zip) and correlate items sold in each region and store with average income levels per district, population levels, incarceration and crime rates, ethnic diversity or religion. There are virtually no limits.
Well, there are limits. The limits are no longer within the software we are using. Software has evolved and is today accessible with any of these external reporting tools we are using. The data that we want to use for reporting are publically on sites like http://www.data.gov , http://www.census.gov/ and others. Systems in place are accessible – for free, data are available – for free, and reporting tools are in place – free to a degree, the limitations become our skillset to leverage these tools. I wrote plenty of articles about my recent passion about learning new stuff. The more and more I learn about the tools we have today at our disposal and how little users (including myself) know how to use them, give the term ‘shelf ware‘ a complete new meaning. We used to blame ourselves on overspending on software licenses we never used in the first place, especially in the realm of business applications. Today, we must admit that we largely have software in place that is more than capable to do the things we want to do, and the limitations are largely in our own skills to use these tools. We must make important decisions on how we bring the knowledge to use our tools into our organizations. We can spend this on external services and consultants, or spend the energy to learn these ourselves, but if we don’t learn the tools we invested in, we will have shelf ware, we will have tools in our garage that we cannot use. It is not the fanciest garage that makes the most beautiful house; it is the handy man that knows how to use these tools.