Most of the business intelligence tools today focusing on self service delivery assume that the user or more appropriately report consumer is interested playing with data. They assume that the end user wants to conduct their own analysis and understand data, derive relationships and determine ’cause and effect’ patterns. I do not agree with this assertion and am inclined to suggest that most users just simply want enough functionality to do their job with minimal effort. The requirement for data manipulation and construction is a pretty easy side-bar for a developer like me to fall into because we tend to assume that everyone likes playing with data just as we do.
At a recent BBBT meeting on 11-Jan-2013, Jaspersoft showcased some of their new product and they have a very interesting approach to delivering Self-Service to consumers. While they do use the words Self-Service (this is my interpretation), the offering meets the Self-Service definition because it places a large amount of power in the hands of the end user without requiring them to have technical skills. After all, this is the nature of Self-Service.
I have known of Jaspersoft by name for more than a few years now. I’d be the first to admit, I had a very limited understanding of the product and it never really struck me as a stand out tool. In-fact, I saw their offering as similar to most row set reporting tools providing row groupings, aggregation functions (auto subtotal, total line items) with specific formats at these levels, parameters, charting and other expected reporting functions. Nothing really much new there – just another report writer and server. This understanding may not be too much better now but some parts of their offering are novel and noteworthy.
Jaspersoft’s approach seems different because their reports focus on giving the user the ability to manipulate the components that already exist in the report. This is a nice feature to deliver for those who simply wish to use and manipulate existing reports (and the datasets in them). Examples of this type of functionality include the ability to change chart types, apply filtering to datasets, sorting, conditional formatting and altering table layouts (by including, removing and rearranging columns). All formatting objects of the report can change at the users will.
This meets a rather large hole in the ability to deliver Self-Service to users. Again, the target audience are people that do not want to write reports, or have reports that merely allow them to change parameters in an otherwise fixed report. They just want to cherry pick components of reports that they’ve seen. Of course, this is delivered via the browser.
This is a much more powerful delivery of Self-Service and targets a much larger audience than tools that demand the user manage data as part of their daily process.