7/06/2012

Evolution of Reporting

Reports are nothing new.

They've been around forever and a day.

Back on the Mainframe / AS400, people were writing batch reports for over 30 years, some are still doing it.

Then along came the Relational Database with the definition being:  "is a collection of data items organized as a set of formally described tables from which data can be accessed easily"


So then there were 4th generational languages which allow the developer to easily connect to a database, apply the necessary joins, without having know much about SQL.

Then came the Data Warehouse, which stores data for reporting and analysis.  Data was denormalized for quick access with slicing and dicing the dimensions and measures for multi level dissection and drill down using a language called MDX, which is a query language for OLAP databases.


Because of time delays and complexity involved, users began to demand faster access to their data, delivered in a variety of formats, for consumption in near real time.


Which gave rise to a new breed of reporting such as Tableau, QlikView and Microsoft version Power Pivot.  These new tools allow a business user, not necessarily IT people, to rapidly connect to a data source, pull data in, join the data, see their data, then deploy to other users, Power Point or web interfaces with permissions almost instantly.


Users can create stunning visualizations including Dashboards which drill down, drill through, color graphics, dynamically adjust based on Slicers and Pivots.  With other tools such as Performance Point which usually require a developer, Balanced Scorecards are now common place with Key Performance Indicators KPI to quickly draw attention visually to points of interest on the Scorecard.

Users don't always stay put.  And by that they sometimes are on the golf course, at the air port, at home, sometimes connected to the VPN other times not.  Reports still need to handle this feature.  A lot of Reporting solutions offer some type of Mobile access, through portals such as Microsoft SharePoint.


Next step in the evolution of Reporting is a sub-set of Big Data, called Hadoop.  This type of system uses thousands of low end servers to host enormous amounts of data, mostly un-structured, as in non-relational.  Basically a central controller replicates 3 copies of every item to a variety of servers, which self regenerate if corrupt, and the data gets widdled down to key, element pairs, which can then be queries on in batch queries.  The concept is quite powerful and has been around for some time, although because of the reduction in costs of hardware and software and developer time, it has entered the mainstream.

Another intersection of Reporting and Data and Big Data is the advent of Artificial Intelligence.  The goal of AI is to simulate a human cognitive brain, that understands vast amounts of information, can query in real time, can understand human speech and thought patterns, as well as fragmented speech that is regional or specific to circumstances, etc.  If you've seen Space Odyssey series, you may be familiar with the computer character HAL, move each digit 1 letter (IBM), although the real version IBMWatson seems to be a lot friendlier and can win on Jeopardy.

So as you can see, Reporting has been here for a while, has changed somewhat over time, and will continue to grow and expand in the future.

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