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This is a little off-topic, but I think that my audience of readers may actually know a lot about this topic!

My company is searching for a Business Intelligence (Reporting) system, and I’d love to get suggestions of systems to investigate!

Our requirements are:

  • Web-based reporting tool
  • Concurrent or ‘unlimited user’ licensing — one of the core values of our company is “Open Company, No Bullshit”, so we want to give reporting access to everyone. I don’t mind if there are tiers of users (eg only some can create reports), as long as I can give access to 200+ people.
  • Give users (or at least a subset of users) the ability to play with crosstabs / Pivot Tables of data, so they can slice & dice the data themselves. They should be able to select rows, columns and filters so that they can do self-service reporting.
  • Give users (or at least a subset of users) the ability to create their own private reports, and the ability to publish reports to the rest of the company. There should be some form of security in place so that people can’t overwrite ‘official’ reports (eg ones created by the IT department).
  • Saas or runs under RedHat (no Microsoft technologies, please!)
  • Users can access on the Mac (eg Firefox, Safari as browsers)
  • No need for ETL capabilities — we’ve done all that!
  • Our preferred database is PostgreSQL, but we could be flexible on that

The system will report on data in our corporate databases, so I’m not looking for any particular Salesforce functionality.

Saas solutions we know about:

Non-SaaS solutions we know about:

We also ruled out some vendors due to the need for a Microsoft platform:

So, do you know of a kick-arse web-based BI tool that empowers users to create their own reports?

If so, I’d love to hear from you either via ask@theenforcer.net or as a comment on this blog. Thanks!

The Bottom Line

  • I’m looking for a kick-arse web-based reporting tool
  • We’ve looked at many and haven’t been perfectly satisfied
  • Do you know of any others?

12 Responses to “Off Topic: Can you recommend a Business Intelligence tool?”

  1. Luke Townsend Says:

    Our company is currently transitioning from a traditional business intelligence platform to a more light weight SaaS BI solution. We have been searching around and found a few companies such as Jaspersoft, Penatho and Actuate. I’ve been analyzing all three companies and Actuate’s Saas BI web page stands out, in terms of useful information about SaaS business intelligence. If you’re company is looking for lightweight BI solution, take a look at their page, here’s the link http://www.actuate.com/products/saas-bi

  2. Tom Tobin Says:

    Salesforce reporting can do these things, why did you rule it out? Export formats, or something deeper?

  3. The Enforcer Says:

    @Tom “Salesforce reporting can do these things, why did you rule it out?”

    The data on which we wish to report is in our corporate databases, not in Salesforce. Also, the reporting capabilities in Salesforce are not sufficient for our desires and would need to be accessible to people without a Salesforce login.

  4. The Enforcer Says:

    Thank you to Mehmet for also suggesting On-Demand Crystal Reports: http://www.ondemand.com/businessintelligence/

    He says “nice integration with salesforce too”.

    I hadn’t realised they have an on-demand solution.

    On the topic of SaaS / On-demand, it’s a difficult choice for reporting. Using SaaS typically requires uploading the data, which means you’re probably not updating the data that much. Many products have command-line upload tools that can be scheduled. Birst even has a “behind-the-firewall” tool that lets the cloud-based service access our own database. Then there’s the standard benefits of SaaS, such as automatic upgrades, never having to solve installation problems and not having to worry about platform compatibility (eg operating systems).

    On the down-side, few SaaS solutions do good user provisioning and Single Sign-on. In fact, they try to go to extremes to help you “share your data” by inviting people to collaborate. This isn’t a good idea with sensitive corporate data that we want to keep within the company.

  5. Robert Gothan Says:

    Hm. I never ever saw any kick-ass web-based BI – these solutions are not intuitive, easy to use, and (the most important thing) are slow.

    I’m interested in the ‘I don’t want ETL’ – I don’t know enough about your requirements, but are you saying that you’ve got all your analysts’ data ready to just put in reports – the problem in my experience is that this is a very dangerous assumption to make, because ‘report culture’ always falls short of expectations.

    Don’t understand why the desktop solutions don’t appeal? That’s the route we went with ORYX, our new product.

  6. The Enforcer Says:

    @Robert Gothan: Re “I don’t want ETL”

    I’m not requiring a tool that does ETL because (a) I’ve got my own set of scripts that process the data into simple-to-use, documented datasets and (b) because I’m more interested in finding a kick-arse front-end reporting tool that a “bells and whistles” do-everything-tool.

    I’m looking for a web-based solution because my company does not use any Microsoft technologies — none at the back-end, none at the front-end. We use Macintosh or Linux, with only a scattering of PCs for some finance staff who love the old ways. And, let me tell you, it’s a blissful situation not having to deal with Windows and all its associated licensing.

    So, I’d be open to a desktop reporting tool, as long as it’s available under all desktop platforms — Windows, Mac, Linux. The few that offer this typically don’t have a great back-end to power it all. Hence, the desire for a web-based front-end.

    Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that our company is geographically spread throughout the world, so a desktop solution that has to talk to a back-end server would suffer from latency. A web-based solution would do all the processing on the server, located in the same place as our databases, so only the report results would be sent back to users. So, it would offer noticeably faster response times.

    One of our biggest problems is that we’ve got a half-decent reporting environment already via our corporate wiki (see http://bit.ly/howto-report), but it doesn’t offer self-service capabilities (eg interactive crosstabs). So, I need something that offers more capability that is as accessible as our current tool — all staff can access it, we’re not limited by “per user” licensing that forces us to remove capabilities from users, etc.

    We’ve look at all the tools above, and have ruled out practically all of them. None have jumped out as perfect for our needs.

  7. The Enforcer Says:

    Thanks also to Sidney for recommending Futrix, based on SAS.

    While it runs on Linux, looks like clients must use Internet Explorer. If so, it’s another no-go for us.

  8. JP Seabury Says:

    I still think you should consider Salesforce.com. I know you’re looking at sharing data that is in your corporate database (and not your SFDC database), but I think you should bring the two together.

    Consider Steve Anderson’s recently published article as a source of inspiration:

    http://gokubi.com/archives/salesforce-com-as-free-bolt-on-analytics-engine-for-any-database-app

  9. Tom Tobin Says:

    For salesforce.com – if you use http://www.salesforce.com/platform/platform-edition/ force.com Free, then you can’t argue with the price for the first 100 users.
    What’s the problem with salesforce.com’s matrix reports?

  10. Giulio Quaglieri Says:

    You should definitely check out SQL Power Wabit, it can do everything you listed in your requirements, and it’s likely the least expensive.

  11. The Enforcer Says:

    Update: In the end, we have found InstantOLAP to be the best tool for our requirements.

    It’s a German product, and their new v3 product allows report creation via web browser (with database and cube definition done via a Java applet). It’s extremely powerful, although I’ll admit that the learning curve to do super-smart stuff is quite steep. Small footprint (uses Tomcat), good licensing (concurrent users, site licenses), very fast, no Flash, works with any JDBC database.

  12. Megan Says:

    Did you check out http://www.sisense.com? We use them in our office and with the Prism technology we are able to customize our own dashboards, create our own reports and there is no need for additional software or server.