Over the last year I have been lucky enough to be introduced to a number of BI tools that have really changed the way that I think about what a BI tool should do, and the productivity that we should expect. I have now seen one that has really made me take stock of the standard approaches, and realise that the mainstream is rooted to an outdated approach that is both too limited in scope and requires too much skill and effort to produce sophisticated results. The tool in question does not come from one of the mega vendors - the Oracle, IBM, SAPs, Microsoft's of the world - indeed its heritage is not based on the west coast of the States. It is BOARD and they are a Swiss company.
I have to admit to approaching a briefing from BOARD with a fairly low expectation of what I was going to see, and a high degree of scepticism based on reading how they described the capability of the tool, but in this line you have to keep an open mind, because there are always surprises lying in wait. BOARD turned out to do everything that was promised, it did it in a most elegant fashion, and at a speed of both creation and execution that was staggering. So I was jolted into having to rethink, and I just sat and watched with wide eyed admiration as they ran through the capabilities and created things, not to their order but following my prompts, as I was determined to see if this could be real, or was very clever smoke and mirror inspired snake oil after all!
So what is BOARD? It is a BI tool that encompasses both traditional BI capability and the fast emerging most vital aspects of analytics, Corporate Performance Management, the management of financials, and critical business performance. So BOARD offers one tool, one interface, and seamless integration, whereas the big vendors are selling you at least two tools with entirely different heritages, look and feel, and numerous issues around integration. Think of Hyperion and OBIEE from Oracle, and TMI and standard Cognos from IBM and you can see how radical a concept that is.
On its own that capability would have been impressive enough to have grabbed my attention, but then they showed me how the functionality was built into applications, and this was the area where I expected to at my most patronising; the marketing material said you could do all of this without code, just with point and click, and I immediately thought so it's going to be very Mickey Mouse, and then someone with real skills is going to have to come along behind, and sort it out to create an enterprise level solution, but no. It is point and click, and there before your eyes is real enterprise level functionality! The second part of my incredulity was not only was it just point and click, and sophisticated capability was there in an instant, but when that functionality was called upon to interact with big data sets it was lightening quick! All a bit disconcerting to those of us brought up on traditional tools.
The speed stems from the use of what is called Hybrid Bitwise Memory Pattern, which is a mapping of compressed multi-dimensional data at bit level into RAM. This technology provides scale, performance, concurrency and parallelism. The tool, being a CM as well as BI tool, has not just a read capability but full read/write, so you can model budgets, forecasts etc. and store them. The read capability, besides being fast, is also notable as it is not just quick when reading down the established drill paths, you can also drill anywhere. It does not stop there; the system copes with unstructured data, so you can attach notes to annotate things, you can embed images, even MS Office documents.
Another feature is that the capability can be built into a dynamic workflow; guiding the users from step to step in a BI-enabled activity, guiding the actions, maintaining the status, and prompting for the next action to drive things to their logical conclusion. This is also usually another product, from another original vendor, with another look and feel, if it is offered at all by the competition.
So that is a quick view of BOARD, a product that they claim is a good few years ahead of the competition. I have to agree with them, and I am sure the growing list of well-known companies who are adopting BOARD as a standard, replacing the traditional players' offerings, must be grinning from ear to ear. This is a real challenger and well worth evaluating, even if you think you have reasonable capability today I think this can take you to another level.