I recently found myself in a series of conversations in which I needed to make a case for dimensional data modeling. The discussions involved a group of highly skilled data architects who were surely familiar with dimensional techniques but didn’t see them as the best solution in the case at hand.
I thought it would be easy to find a quick, jargon free summary of best reporting database design principles aimed at a technical audience. There were a number of good summaries (cited at the end of this post), but none pitched just right for this highly-technical-but-outside-the-data-warehouse-world crowd.
I wanted to raise the dimensional model because, for most business reporting scenarios, it not only delivers on reporting needs, but also helps report developers handle changes to those needs as a side effect of the design.
So these are the notes I prepared for the conversation. They helped us all get on the same page, hopefully they will be useful to others: Continue reading →
Standing up any new analytics tool in an organization is complex, and early on, new adopters of Tableau often struggle to include all the complexities in their plan. This post proposes a mental model in the form of a story of how Tableau might have rolled out in one hypothetical installation to uncover common challenges for new adopters.
Tableau’s marketing lends one to imagine that introducing Tableau is easy: “Fast Analytics”, “Ease of Use”, “Big Data, Any Data” and so on. (here, 3/31/2017). Tableau’s position in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant (referenced on the same page) attests to the huge upside for organizations that successfully deploy Tableau, which I’ve been lucky enough to witness firsthand. Continue reading →
Even though it happens annually, teams building new visualizations often forget to think about the effects of turning over from one year to another.
In today’s fast paced, Agile world, requirements for even the most critical dashboards and visualizations tend to evolve, and development often proceeds iteratively from a scratchpad sketch through successively more detailed versions to release of a “1.0” production version. Organized analytics teams evolve dashboards within a process framework that include checkpoints ensuring standards are met for security, reliability, usability, and so on.
A reporting team can build a revolutionary analytics capability enabling unprecedented visibility into operations, and then, if year turnover isn’t included in requirements, experience embarrassing errors and usability challenges in the January after initial deployment. In effect, the system experiences its own Y2.xK crisis, not too different from the expected Y2K crisis 16 years ago. Continue reading →
As I mentioned in the February post, I’m new to Tableau, and as the tone of that post implied,enjoying it very much. Tableau is a robust and flexible solution for data delivery. Like Qlikview, which I worked with a while ago, it is supported by outstanding, and free, introductory training and a very active user community.
As I’ve made my first steps in Tableau I’ve been a frequent user community visitor, and generally have gotten the answers I’ve been looking for. However, like any tool there still have been a few surprises. I’ll run down the top few in this post:
Measures can have complex logic
Big extracts are tricky
Changing data sources is really tricky
Sorry, there are some things you just can’t do
Hopefully this post helps other novices negotiate those first few steps a bit more easily. Continue reading →
For complex work, a very simple app requires a very smart user. That point was driven home to me in Tableau Fundamentals class this week. I don’t see that as bad news at all.
Not so long ago I wrote a piece that attempted to inject a bit of reality into the claims then made by some data visualization tool vendors. I cited unexpected challenges that those adopting such tools for their obvious and compelling data presentation abilities might face. The challenges included unexpectedly complex data integration, establishing solid reporting standards and practices, scaling report distribution as demand for the visualizations expands, and the conversion work that can result from version upgrades.
Although a Fundamentals class, the experienced and enthusiastic instructor and the small, intelligent student group combined to make the two days immensely valuable, going far beyond the basics on the program (more on specific lessons learned will appear in an upcoming post). The instructor’s focus on principles rather than recipes drove home this point: in order to effectively use Tableau you have to understand not only how to operate Tableau itself but also the underlying data management, usability, and statistics principles.
Could it be that adopting easy-to-use Tableau in place of, say, SSRS, Cognos, or SAS requires an upgrade in staff knowledge and expertise? Continue reading →
Recently, I posted “Interview with a Data Scientist” at my company’s blog site. In it, my friend and colleague Yan Li answers four questions about being a data scientist and what it takes to become one. In my view Yan’s responses provide a bracing reminder that data science is something truly new, but that it rests on universal principles of application development. Continue reading →
A technique for reporting requirements has emerged as the de facto standard in the business intelligence community. The technique, which emerged in the mid-2000s, is new enough to be as yet unacknowledged by the requirements analysis powers that be. David Loshin describes how it works in this 2007 post:
Start with a business question about how to monitor a business process using a metric, like “How many widgets have been shipped by size each week by warehouse?” Continue reading →
When Tom Petty sang, “Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out” he wasn’t referring to business intelligence (BI) reporting but he might have been. Current generation reporting engines, AKA data visualization or data discovery tools, market their products with statements like these, emphasizing quick development and ease of use:
“The democratization of data is here. In minutes, create an interactive viz (sic) and embed it in your website. Anyone can do it— and it’s free.” (Tableau Products Page)
“Easy yet sophisticated report design empowers your employees to design professional and telling reports in minutes not days” (Windward)
I like these tools, and I do believe that they can provide a leaner, more productive, and more informative approach to BI reporting than some more mature products. However, none is a silver bullet for all data integration and reporting woes. Continue reading →