Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

Ad-Hoc Reporting Isn’t for Everyone


Consider your users before thinking ad-hoc will be your silver bullet.

Ad-hoc reports allow users to manipulate and explore their data and build reports on the fly to answer business questions. If dashboards and static reports answer the question “What is happening at my business?” then ad-hoc answers the question “Why is it happening?” However, ad-hoc is not for everyone. There is a common misconception, often propagated by BI vendors like us, that once users have access to their data, they’ll be able to self-serve and IT will be relieved of the “go fetch” requests for reports. Let’s debunk that myth.

The spectrum of workers in your organization includes people with various responsibilities and skill sets who are equipped with tools specific to their job function in order to get work done. In her 2011 report on Self-Service BI, analyst Cindi Howson illustrates the different segments of BI users and their relation to business query tools.

As you can see, ad-hoc or business query tools only serve a small subset of users: IT developers, analysts & information workers (power users), and some executives & managers. IT developers are building ad-hoc reports for the frequent requests of other user groups. Data analysis experts/power users use ad-hoc query tools most often to support decision-makers who make operational, strategic or tactical decisions. Then you have executives and managers who ideally want interactive dashboards with an ad-hoc component so they can quickly answer questions without needing complex BI tools.

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arcplan Spotlight: Ad-Hoc Reporting in Your Browser


We just created a quick video on arcplan Spotlight, our newest solution for ad-hoc reporting, which I want to share with our readers. Our customers are a mix between those who access static reports and dashboards every day and those who are ad-hoc driven. For the latter, we developed arcplan Spotlight, which enables powerful on-the-fly analysis in any web browser. For the former, arcplan Spotlight is an appropriate next step as user needs evolve since it’s simple enough for non-power-users who want to explore their data without complex BI tools.

arcplan Spotlight goes beyond what most other BI platforms offer, which is simple export to Excel, where the user has to wait for data, write formulas, and then do it all again next week when encountering the same question. arcplan Spotlight allows users to save queries (privately or publicly), export to Excel with a live connection to the data source, export to PDF for sharing query results, customize the look of your query, and undo/redo your last action.

Best of all, it’s free with installations of arcplan Enterprise 7.1, arcplan Edge 2.7.1, and arcplan Engage 1.1 and above.

Have questions? Leave us a comment!


Mobile BI: Device & Data Security Concerns


Accessing information from mobile devices is becoming second nature for business users and executives who need to be connected to performance data 24/7. We’ve seen predictions from Gartner heralding 2012 as the year of mobile BI explosion, where employees will bring their own smartphones and tablet PCs into the workplace. As the number of organizations that have implemented (or are planning to implement) mobile BI increases, there are mounting concerns about mobile security. Lack of control of downloaded applications, lack of centralized server management, and virus protection are some of the concerns that come to mind as business users tote their shiny new personal tablets to work.

Let’s examine more closely how your IT team can handle these issues:

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon. Understandably so, many of us (myself included) have begun taking our own devices to work. Tablets and smartphones can be remarkably efficient for business users on the go, and sometimes it’s just easier to have your personal and business information on the same device. Since the company doesn’t own the device, there is no legal way of controlling what apps an individual can download. However, exposure to malicious software (malware) can pose a tremendous threat to business information. One way to address this concern is to whitelist applications so users have a selection of applications to choose from that IT approves. Employees can still use their devices at work, but within IT-sanctioned limits. IT may also ask users to install a mobile security package to help detect and remove malicious applications.

Mobile device security. Data breaches are a very real threat to data stored on mobile devices. This risk may seem obvious, but accidents do happen. Employees may inadvertently leave their smartphone or tablet in a cab, or at a Mexican restaurant while on a business trip (the arcplanner responsible shall remain nameless), complete with company confidential information.

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Business Intelligence at Hospitals: Real-World Examples of Hospital Efficiency & Quality Metrics


As both the battalion chief of my local ambulance and rescue squad and a business intelligence consultant, you can imagine that healthcare analytics are near and dear to me. Plus, living in the Philadelphia region, it’s impossible to escape the news of numerous hospital closures every year. So at arcplan, I love working with hospitals and healthcare organizations to build reports and dashboards that track the metrics critical to their survival. All the way back in 2001, Paul Mango and Louis Shapiro of McKinsey & Company argued that hospitals are essentially a commodity business and therefore need to compete on the basis of operational efficiency. This sentiment rings true more than 10 years later, with skyrocketing medical costs, declining insurance reimbursements, and increased utilization by an aging population. Giving hospital executives (and physicians!) access to real-time data has never been more critical to hospital operations.

Hospital executives often report on financial, operational and clinical system metrics which are crucial to ongoing operations and management. The hospitals we’ve worked with often have an overarching goal to provide efficient, quality care to patients, and they need access to their existing data to make sure they are achieving that goal. Important metrics that roll up to the goal of “efficiency” include the average wait time for a hospital bed, physician productivity, nurse turnover rates and the cost per discharge. Metrics that roll up to a “quality” goal include average length of stay, re-admission rates and patient satisfaction. The only way to improve the quality and efficiency of care is to analyze current performance and identify areas for improvement.

One of arcplan’s customers, the largest private operator of healthcare facilities in the world, came to us when they were focusing on efficiency. For more than 5 years, they have used an arcplan-powered business intelligence system (with data from Oracle Essbase and Teradata) to track key metrics and make decisions that improve efficiency of care – specifically in emergency rooms. All of their ERs needed to reduce wait times, shorten lengths of stay, and avoid people leaving the ER without care and treatment. The goal became to have every ER patient seen by a doctor within 45 minutes of arrival.

So what metrics do they track to achieve this goal? Here are a few examples:

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An Ode to Openness in Collaborative BI


2011 brought tons of news and speculation about the rise of mobile BI, which has given way to actual deployments in 2012 (an estimated 22% of companies using BI this year plan to implement mobile BI in 2012[1]). 2012 will bring news of the next wave: Collaborative BI, with an estimated 15% of BI applications to include collaborative aspects by 2013, according to Gartner[2]. I expect that number to be even higher as companies see the value of collaborative BI throughout this year and knowledge workers start clamoring for greater access to information to improve their decision making.

I’ve pondered the impact of Collaborative BI before, but lately I’ve noticed that one aspect often left out of the conversation – open access to all BI content within an organization. Many analysts have been talking about various vendors’ Collaborative BI platforms and accepting their silo’d approach, but I believe the silo story isn’t healthy. Restricting content to one vendor’s BI reports and dashboards goes against everything that collaboration is about. To make the best decisions possible, employees require access to any and all data that can help them, regardless of whether it’s housed in arcplan or a competitor’s BI product, or even unstructured content like an e-mail or a document on an internal SharePoint portal.

Going further, user-contributed content has to be part of the “openness” mix. This means that IT has to loosen the grip on what is considered relevant BI content and allow users themselves to enrich the collaboration database with reports from the Web – like a lead dashboard for example.

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