The Business Intelligence (BI) scandal: why pay more to get less?

Ignorance is not bliss

Having said that, what does RSinteract, the product for which the above screaming headline was written, do? Well, it's still a potentially very useful tool, one that enables end-users to create reports based on Microsoft’s Reporting Services. Let’s assume that you have Reporting Services installed.

You load RSinteract onto a server and your coalface workers connect to it using a browser. RSinteract provides (via a totally thin client) a simple interface that can be used interactively to create Reporting Services reports.

OK, so that sounds like Report Builder which is still a relatively complex tool and isn’t “thin client”ICS makes great play of the fact that it has worked very hard to keep RSinteract simple, and it has succeeded. With a few drags and a couple of drops, you can create reports that contain grids, tables and graphs. Having battled to help users create reports in the past I have to say that RSinteract has some appeal.

That’s the good news, the bad is that this is very much a first release of the product and it has some very odd omissions from its feature list; and some, to my eyes, very odd additions.

It is easy to create reports and, as a welcome feature, it is easy to make those reports interactive. For example, your business is divided up into US, UK and Rest-Of-World. You want a single report that can be used for all three. No problem, RSinteract allows you to add a box to the report into which you can type the region. Fine. But you can’t use a combo box; you have to type in the name of the region. Would your coalface users really be up for this if the report was based on one of 20 bizarrely named regions?

And then there are the data sources. RSinteract will connect to SQL Server 2000 but it is also billed as a tool for Microsoft SQL Server 2005: “...new RSinteract tool for Microsoft SQL Server 2005 set to radically shake up BI market...”, the publicity says.

So why is it incapable of connecting to the UDM? You know, that linchpin of SQL Server 2005, the Unified Dimensional Model that’s designed to unify the user’s view of the data. You know, that logical layer that ensures that all users report consistently. That one. That’s the one to which RSinteract cannot connect. Instead it can connect directly to tables and views. You know, those objects that users generally find rather difficult to understand which is why the UDM was invented. Sigh.

I have no doubt that these features will appear in time but be warned that they are not in the product as I write. On the other hand, a feature that would seem to me to be way down on the list has made it to this first version. RSinteract can also use stored procedures as data sources. Whacky, but true. Personally I’d have gone for the UDM. You know, the UDM that……

Ultimately, then, RSinteract has the potential to be a good product; but, given the paucity of features that should be essentials, it is difficult to recommend at present. But at least it isn’t a scandal. ®

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