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

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