Tuesday, 4 September 2007

ClearBI - Clearly the Online Business Intelligence Enterprise Reporting Winner

I have two main gripes when it comes to database reporting tools: They are way overpriced, and end users are unable to manipulate reports for a particular analytical goal, which requires heavy dependence on the IT department's availability to create derivative published works.

Even the grandiose of enterprise reporting, 'Business Objects - Crystal Reports', provides end users with only a basic set of web tools that hardly make a mark compared say with the functionality of MS Excel. Adoption costs are so extraordinarily high, even big companies can't make sense of it. Smaller companies may never achieve sufficient ROI and are forced to lay low in the isolated realm of cutting data to Excel.

Having worked as a Business Analyst, Internet Strategist and Developer for many years I can assimilate my experience relating to the subject of Enterprise Reporting in one simple sentence: "Even today the people who need vital business decision making information are unable to get to it quickly, easily, and on their own."

Along comes Farata Systems with ClearBI (Clear Business Intelligence), a RIA Reporting Application where 'Report Templates', composed by IT or end users, using Adobe Flex or Flash player, can be fully manipulated, and saved as new versions (by authorised personal).

Targeted at end-users, ClearBI enables clients to eliminate the dependency on IT when it comes to any report modification, ranging from simple formatting changes and adding/removing columns to introducing grouping, sophisticated formula-based columns, and being able to persist the changes, optionally saving it as new report or report template.

Targeted at IT personnel, it automates creation of the "canned" report layouts for the end-users, who can then run them in Flash player, PDF print and Excel export these reports, with or without the ability to persist the changes.

ClearBI combines with Farata's Clear Data Builder, a Rapid Application Development tool, allowing production of complex database reports within minutes, rather than hours or days. A few simple gestures and configurations, and Flex developers can create base template reports for stand-alone use, or as custom containers within larger Flex applications. Publishing is a simple upload of the html wrapper and swf file. After that, end users can begin making their own variations and incantations with all manner of sophisticated beautification and complex literal and boolean expressions for aggregating and highlighting information.

Reports can stored in the database in XML format as meta-data structures. Data can be persisted using a Master/Detail Flash-based-form. Indeed there is no limit to the functionality placed in the user's hands, as application developers may simply combine ClearBI reporting into their own pre-existing or new RIA's.

ClearBI's interface is presented as if it were an extra, rather nice looking, toolbar in your browser, as shown below. (click the images for a larger view)

Clicking on the 'edit' icon opens a fully featured panel in which users can modify base reports and save them as derivative works, or new templates. The 'edit' panel provides layout, filtering, sorting, grouping, printing, and query functionality in a simple and well thought out, drag and drop interface.

ClearBI toolbar is easily accessible and offers the following 20 functions:

1. Template - Basic and end-user modified templates
2. Report - End user's published reports
3. Refresh data
4. Edit - pops up the report edit panel
5. Copy - allows users to copy the new report or turn it into a new template
6. Delete composition
7. Composition Wizard - allows end user to create new templates from scratch
8. Remove Filter
9. Show/Hide columns
10. Auto-resize columns
11. Edit Layout - pops up layout beautification panel
12. Edit Group - pops up drag/drop group editing feature
13. Sort - pops up drag/drop column sorting feature
14. Filter - pops up conditional filtering feature
15. Save (as new)
16. Zoom magnification
17. Zoom indicator
18. Flat Excel export
19. Structured Excel export
20. Print (to paper or PDF)

There are two versions of ClearBI:

ClearBI Developer Edition allows software developers to visually create and customize reports in Eclipse IDE. The report layouts are captured in MXML and can be compiled and integrated into any Flex application. The end users will be able to work with reports (sorting, filtering, grouping, export to Microsoft Excel, et al.), but won't be able to save the customized report.

ClearBI Server Edition delivers all the functionality of the Developer Edition to the end user; it allows the end users to create reports from the universe of the data fields without need to install any software other than Flash Player. The end users can create, customize and save reports in the centralized database server without any help from the IT department.

Developer License is around - US$799 per developer. This license is the best fit for the organizations that need a tool to create canned reports to be viewed by the end-users. These reports are read-only and can be viewed independently or integrated into other Web applications. Production support is not included but is available on a yearly subscription or hourly rate basis.

ClearBI Server Edition OEM is around US$999 per server (up to 2 CPU). The end users can customize and save their reports. The number of the end users is not limited. This license is a good fit for small businesses. Production support is not included but is available on a yearly subscription or hourly rate basis.

There is also a ClearBI Server Edition Enterprise and you'll need to contact Farata or myself for a quote.

Rich Internet Applications Australia was appointed by Farata System's to represent ClearBI and Clear Data Builder in Australia and New Zealand as of August 2007.

ClearBI is a clear winner in the business intelligence reporting space with RIA-ware that provides unmatched end-user accessibility to time sensitive analytical information. The combination of RIA and RAD with Flex/Flash makes report generation by end users incredibly fast.

For a demo of ClearBI go here. For Farata Systems web site go here. To contact me for a corporate demonstration in Australia or New Zealand, email me at: steven.rich[at]klikhir.com

RIA L.o.a.d.i.n.g...Does Usability Outweigh The Wait?

We all know RIA applications can present users with a great experience and provide superior usability. Significantly, one of RIA's main goal is to improve usability by offering seamless state changes on the client, which requires preloading of the core application, as well as initial images and data. But once this is done all manner of data filtering, animations, and screen changes can be performed without call backs to the server for new pages thereby drastically speeding up interactivity, improving productivity and enhancing end-user experience.

There is evidence suggesting users dislike silly flash introduction animations to web sites, or worse, poorly designed totally Flash'ed web sites that take forever to load. It appears users do not expect a totally Flash'ed web site, rather, a nicely placed Flash ad and the optional animation demo, where appropriate.
When they arrive at a web site and see ....L.O.A.D.I.N.G.... .... ... horrified and panic struck, they aim for the back button.

Has Flash (or Adobe) inadvertently created a problem (perceived or otherwise) for serious RIA web developers in that users arriving at these arguably 'much more dynamic and brilliant' web sites, turn back, because in their mind they think they're going to get a Flash animation - or something equally vulgar or useless.

Is the loading issue really the issue? Ironically, well designed RIAs may cause some marginal delay, but the benefits of not re-requesting data from the server every time a user clicks poses a radical gain in usability, efficiency and experience. It also reduces the payload on the web server as far fewer requests are being made.

I recently converted my web site www.klikhir.com into a totally RIA web site.
From a usability point of view I hope it presents the user with a great experience, and is very user friendly. But I have put up a notice in the Flex/Flash preloader to indicate to the user that the wait is worthwhile. I have also removed any ideas that unsophisticated users may have upon arrival that they are loading a Flash application.

Flex provides an incredible opportunity to create the types of application you've seen in Tom Cruise's Minority Report movie - far beyond what's possible with HTML or AJAX. I just wonder whether users will give RIA's a chance or whether they are destined for corporate use only rather than the general web surfing public.

I will be monitoring klikhir's traffic performance over the coming months more closely to see whether its up or down. If you see regular web pages again in a 3 months time, you'll know the RIA failed.

What do you think about Rich Internet Applications - does the potential gain in usability outweigh the negative perceptions that it's, 'god-forbid', Flash, and that it takes 'forever' to load? Are visitors panic struck by totally Flash'ed web sites and more eager to escape? Is it worth the wait when the application is useful (how would the user know up front)? Would the user prefer the same functionality in HTML/AJAX? And given the option, which option would they end up using more?

I look forward to your thoughts on this highly relevant subject (relevant because RIA's have advanced and matured - i.e. Flash has grown up)

Maybe its just something you love or hate.

(footnote: Flash apps that have been loaded once before are much quicker at reloading than html pages are.)

Thursday, 30 August 2007

MyCoolBook - Dynamic Interactive Online Book

I created MyCoolBook.com for a little fun with Flex 2.
Please see credits on the back cover.
Special thanks to Ely Greenfield for his FlexBook code. The rest was easy.

Update: Here is a tabbed version of the MyCoolBook Application

Flash crossdomain policy was subverted by using PHP proxies.

If you're interested in the source code or having a custom book made for your site, let me know via comments.

The book consumes feeds via 10 API's:
If you know of other feeds you would like to see, let me know.

YouTube.com - videos
Flickr.com - images
EVDB.com - events
Indeed.com - jobs
CJ.com - products & Stuff
eBay.com - auctions
Amazon.com - books & stuff
Technorati.com - blog posts
DigitalPodcasts.com - podcasts
Del.icio.us - social bookmarks

Have fun...

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Build Total Confidence in Adobe Flex with Secrets of the Masters

Rich Internet Applications with Adobe Flex & Java

A Personal Book Review:

Before purchasing this awesome book I evaluated more than 50 online resources, articles, blogs, technotes, and Adobe's development web sites, as well as purchased and read two other Flex and Actionscript books (Flex 2 with Actionscript and Actionscript 3.0 Cookbook). But none of the aforementioned gave me the complete understanding and confidence in being able to integrate Flex applications with enterprise databases in a J2EE or XML-based environment.

This remarkably in depth book begins by taking you on a short but important journey through recent history of Java, Ajax and Flex to consolidate your approach to Rich Internet Application development. You quickly become familiar with the Flex development environment and build reusable components grasping development techniques by example. Each chapter is well explained and easily understood as you work your way to developing your sophisticated programming skills within a matter of days.

The book unambiguously covers the most important techniques for binding Flex applications to data sources whether by XML data transfer, JAVA Beans, Enterprise (binary) Database Integration, Web Services and or to external applications. You also learn advanced techniques in extending Flex components, extending Flex Charts, and building data and destination aware controls you can quickly reuse in other applications.

Over seven hundred pages of example driven code and instructions will solidify your knowledge in creating large Flex applications.

Day 1: You begin this book by first gaining an understanding of Flex architecture and development environment. You then get a serious look under the hood and take Flex for a spin learning the basics of approach to design and usage of Flex controls.

Day 2: The day is spent building a complete multi-tier RPC communications application with transparent access to POJO/EJBs. The result is a complete Stock Portfolio Application that displays a feed containing security prices and the latest financial news, integrated with on-line resources and back end JSP.

Day 3: At the completion of day three you will be able to build end-to-end applications based on Flex Data Management Services using Flex Remoting. The book also includes DAOflex, a rapid code generator that automatically produces data assembler DTOs.

Day 4: You’ll learn how to create your own remoting and batch-update service. Some powerful techniques for implementing a single server update request to enter/update/delete multiple data tables, is learned. These techniques are crucial to implanting fast and streamlined binary data applications.

Day 5: The day is spent learning to extend flex controls; such as making the standard Flex ComboBox, Tree, and Data Grid controls "destination aware". Once you create this code you will never need to rewrite data-aware code again. Simple copy your control into a new application and change the destination and method to populate it with a different data source.

Day 6: On the last day you build a real-world slide show application, learn to extend Flex charts and integrate Flex with external applications such as MS Excel.

By the end of the book you will truly be able to program anything in Flex. It's a magnificent piece of work by smart guys who have truly grasped and then conveyed the magic of Rich Internet Application Development.

Morevover, Farata Systems have a great website and Blog and also host www.myflex.org – where you can download Clear Data Builder (formerly DAOflex). This software is well worth the price and will literally save you thousands of hours of code over the coming years.

Anyone who can program basic DHTML can learn Flex from this book. Seasoned Java and PHP programmers will easily grasp advanced concepts and gain new and important insights into working with Flex.

Thank you for this noteworthy achievement.

You can grab your copy of the book at Amazon. I received an email copy in PDF right away and the hard copy arrived within 3 days.
Rich Internet Applications with Adobe Flex & Java (Secrets of the Masters)

Monday, 23 April 2007

Amazon Context Links Boost Alexa Rankings and Google Adsense eCPM

Recently I introduced Amazon Context links on Klikhir.com and within a few weeks noticed a significant increase in rankings for pages that are regularly viewed. Secondly Klikhir’s Alexa rating has shot up 45000 places. Thirdly, Klikhir Adsense eCPM has increased by as much as 200%.

The only change to Klikhir.com in the past few weeks has been the addition of Amazon Context Links. In fact I have been very busy with other projects over the past four weeks and have done nothing else to Klikhir.com in that time.

Context links are causing Amazon to crawl Klikhir.com regularly. Perhaps this extra activity is causing the increase in Alexa rankings. As far as the Google increased page count I can only guess that the increased Amazon crawl traffic along with the cached return links from a top ranking site like Amazon has improved SEO and eCPM.

Amazon Context Links are a quick and convenient way to add text links to your website so you can monetize your content. Context Links automatically identify and link relevant phrases within your page content to Amazon products, unlocking new ad inventory and saving you the time from having to manually create the links yourself. You can add the links to your pages in minutes, and Amazon provides a wealth of options to customize how they are displayed.

After you embed one simple piece of code on your pages, Context Links will identify and link contextually relevant phrases within your content to Amazon.com products. If you enable the preview functionality your site visitors will see a preview of an Amazon.com product relevant to the phrase selected. Clicking on the link will send your site visitors to the product detail page on Amazon.com, and you will earn referral fees just as you would with any link you hand-picked.

Amazon's spider is notified each time the page is viewed. After the second or third view Amazon automatically inserts the Context links into the page. So each time a page is viewed Amazon’s spider is notified to crawl the page and log the number of views. I have noticed that the time taken for initial processing varies and in some cases it can take up to 3-4 hours until the Context Links systems figure out phrases to link on the page.

You must allow Amazon’s spider (Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; AMZNKAssocBot/4.0)) to crawl your Web site. The crawl is needed in order to identify the content of your Web site and determine appropriate phrases to link. If you do not allow Amazon’s spider to crawl your Web site(s), Context Links will not be able to link anything.

Here is an example of a page at Klikhir.com with the Amazon Context Links: http://www.klikhir.com/business/buying-buck-knives-means-buying-a-trusted-american-brand.html

Apart from enhancing Klikhir.com with Amazon Context Links, the unexpected increase in traffic rankings and eCPM appears to have been worthwhile from a rankings point of view. I have yet to monetize traffic from the clicks.

Do you use Amazon Context Links? If so, have you noticed similar results or increases in activity and rankings, or conversions?

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

How Blogs May Increase Human Intelligence

After reading Rand Fishkin and Andy McBeal this week I am inspired by the reasons why people blog. As ever, curious by the meaning and impact of the Internet on the human race, I pondered how blogs may have increased human intelligence and came up with five factors: consciousness, knowledge, truth, taste and sociality.

Writing and reading is a powerful force for breathing life into humanity. By reducing our thoughts to letter, sharing our dispatches in a way that invites criticism, and reading and commenting in others people’s blogs, we elevate our consciousness in three ways:
  • Becoming acutely aware of other peoples intelligence
  • Being open to broad criticism while maintaining individual identity
  • Expanding our minds and thoughts to infinite possibilities
Blogs are about researching, thinking, compiling, formatting, and publishing knowledge. The process itself requires a great deal of learning and knowledge in order to be successful. Countless tasks are required by Bloggers, all the way from thinking about subject matter, to moderating comments, reviewing statistics, and being able to place links and ads on pages.

People who read blogs do so for entertainment, learning, interacting and networking. A greater way to share knowledge is through social blogging, a fundamental cornerstone of which is, openness to criticism and additional commenting.

Blogs worth reading seek the truth no matter the niche. Truth is central to the development of human intelligence. Without truth there is no knowledge. Every generation surpasses the next with more knowledge ever spiraling upward in seek of the truth of Everything.

Chris Anderson coined the phrase “We are the new creators of taste”. What he meant was that because of the new abundance of choices brought about by the Internet we now spend a great deal of time recommending, reviewing, commenting, filtering and voting on content in order to expose the good stuff. Great blogs, with a measure of traffic, are what we collectively think is tasteful. Openness to experience develops taste and character which are attributes of human intellect.

Blogs encourage sociality more than any other medium. By default they invite commenting and criticism. The Blogshpere is a virtual friend’s marketplace where people create relationships for sociality, fun, crowd voting, corroboration, and casual chat. This interactive behaviour makes people smarter by causing them to think more about what they are saying, and planning activities like their next post.

Human intelligence could have only been brought about through social behaviour. Try live in a world all by yourself. The human race is a team. Without each other we cannot exist. Together we create infinite intelligence by sharing knowledge through social mechanics. Investing in relationship building is a smart thing to do. With a network of friends you have untold leverage at your disposal.

Do you think blogging makes us smarter?

That’s what I have to say.
Here’s what 6 others are saying.
Rand Fishkin
Andy McBeal
Bud Caddell
Chris Rothwell
Michael Arrington