Friday, October 15, 2010

Bridging the Gap Between Reports and Visualization

"Old Think" Reporting

Some savvy, wise souls commented on our last post COLD Reporting Meets the New Think of Biz Intelligence.  The comments express doubt about whether or not one can reliably, efficiently extract actionable information from print and harvest it in Biz Intelligence Visualizations - you know, the Executive Summary version of all that data.

Well, we’re here to tell you it is not only possible, but possibly preferable in some situations.  In fact, it may be the only data source you've got.  Let me explain:

The report-data nay-sayers rightly posit that going back to the source data is always preferable and we agree.  Why parse an abstract of that original data when you can easily tap the original source itself?  To which we must also say: Bravo!  But here is where the rub meets the chafe; the original source data is sometimes no longer available or so obscured that it would take an offshore army to reconstruct it.   Reports are really nothing more than a view to your organization's valuable finance, sales, operations and customer data.  Think of reports as the digital pics on your camera phone; they are accurate, though somewhat ugly snapshots in time.  Recreating the moments without the snapshots is difficult at best, and I have a real customer example that proves this point.

Same Data, but in a User-Driven Visualization

 A very large North American phone company is persuaded by the marketing department to change the way they present information to customers.  Does this sound familiar so far? They are fine with the way phone bills are dynamically presented in PDF instantly, but they claim that large commercial customers are demanding a more interactive experience, the ability to sort call detail columns, the ability to link to more information on the bills' tax section, and a more drill-down look and feel vs. the regular phone bill, which can be hundreds of pages for some customers.  The phone bills are assembled from dozens of billing systems and the billing detail really only exists in the bill itself.  So there are two options.  Go back to some data warehouse that contains all this data, or mine the bills themselves to generate the more dynamic experience.  Because there was no comprehensive data warehouse available, this customer chose to parse the bills during each cycle and generate the interactive experience dynamically.  
Because the report data was in a digital print format they were able to extract all of the pertinent data, call detail, tax, department breakdowns into reliable XML structures and then dynamically present a much improved customer experience.  Because the extraction process happens in advance, the actual user experience is fast and reliable.

We would agree that this use case does not represent all your Biz Intelligence scenarios, but we see this often enough to suggest it to our readers.  Please keep those cards and letters coming! And, please consider those trusty HVTO reports next time your marketing department comes calling!

Our next post: How to balance the need to present more relevant, timely transactional data to Gen X and Y while still complying with SEC, FCC guidelines.

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