While running reports today for a client, I had a chance to review the product Tableau.
What was most impressive was the ease of use, the simplicity.
They have a desktop edition.
User can connect to Files or Servers.
Once connected, the program deciphers the Dimensions and Measures.
User can drag n drop fields onto the Pivot table and data instantly appears.
You can connect to a data source (single or multiple tables), with links back to the source interactively, and you can import entire data structure or partial data by writing custom SQL.
User can hold down the shift key, click on multiple fields and then use Best Practices Chart suggestions, meaning that based on your field selection, the appropriate Charts appear.
Great for Visualizations.
When bringing in multiple tables, I would say understanding Joins to be the toughest part for non-SQL developers.
However, user can select Inner, Left or Right without having to write code.
Connecting to Excel, flat files, Databases, etc. is easy and straight forward assuming you have the credentials. In addition, they have an ODBC to connect to anything not listed specifically.
User can view data easily.
Users can save data sets to the repository, which are also distributable and can be published to the server.
And you can connect live, import all or subset of data.
In addition, you can actually copy and paste raw data off the web and drop into the Tableau utility clipboard and it auto creates a table which can be viewed and immediately joined and Visualized.
So you can analyze and mash external data sources.
Customization, every item can be customized from multiple angles.
Colors, fonts, size, grouping, the list goes on and on.
When I think of traditional reporting, I think of data sources, business requirements, writing code / SQL, pasting into report designer, formatting report, grouping, adding parameters, loading on server, setting permissions.
However, with these new GUI based report visualization utilities, you don't need most of that.
Instead of learning all that, you basically take the data and play with it.
It's a playground to view the data from infinite angles and see the trends and the points of interest and things that look out of place.
So in traditional reporting, you have to ask the questions ahead of time which the report should answer.
With the new methodology, you don't know the questions up front, you discover the questions and the answers as you go.
This is quite amazing!
I haven't gotten to the more advanced concepts yet, as I've been viewing the online tutorials for basic stuff. They also have Advanced features which I haven't had time to view yet.
Here's a post from last week regarding Tableau as well...