COTS Vs. Home-Grown BI Apps

Wanted to run the following two questions and my answers by the community:

Q. What is the average age of reporting applications at large enterprises?

A. Reporting apps typically involve source data integration, data models, metrics, reports, dashboards, and queries. I'd rate the longevity of these in descending order (data sources being most stable and queries changing all the time).

Q. What is the percentage of reporting applications that are homegrown versus custom built?

A. These are by no means solid data points but rather my off-the-cuff – albeit educated - guesses:

  • The majority (let's say >50%) of reports are still being built in Excel and Access.
  • Very few (let's say <10%) are done in non-BI-specific environments (programming languages).
  • The other 40% I'd split 50/50 between:
    • off-the-shelf reports and dashboards built into ERP or BI apps,
    • and custom-coded in BI tools

Needless to say, this differs greatly by industry and business domain. Thoughts?

Advanced Data Visualization - A Critical BI Component

As one of the industry-renowned data visualization experts Edward Tufte once said, “The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; the paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?” Indeed, there’s just too much information out there for all categories of knowledge workers to visualize it effectively. More often than not, traditional reports using tabs, rows, and columns do not paint the whole picture or, even worse, lead an analyst to a wrong conclusion. Firms need to use data visualization because information workers:

  • Cannot see a pattern without data visualization. Simply seeing numbers on a grid often does not convey the whole story — and in the worst case, it can even lead to a wrong conclusion. This is best demonstrated by Anscombe’s quartet where four seemingly similar groups of x/y coordinates reveal very different patterns when represented in a graph.
  • Cannot fit all of the necessary data points onto a single screen. Even with the smallest reasonably readable font, single-line spacing, and no grid, one cannot realistically fit more than a few thousand data points on a single page or screen using numerical information only. When using advanced data visualization techniques, one can fit tens of thousands (an order-of-magnitude difference) of data points onto a single screen. In his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte gives an example of more than 21,000 data points effectively displayed on a US map that fits onto a single screen.
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