Corporate dashboards, easy as PiiE
Digital Harbor's deep-diving visual toolkit builds ontologies for maximum data linkageFollow @peterwayner
When my brother, the TV ad writer, worked for one of the major burger chains, he complained that the success or failure of each advertisement would be decided immediately by the next morning's sales reports. It didn't matter if his 15-second spot was cute, clever, or pretty as long as burger sales spiked after an ad ran.
The current buzzword for such real-time telemetry is "corporate dashboard." The challenge with dashboards is to tie enough data together to make them truly useful in forecasting or reporting rather than just giving yet another database summary.
Digital Harbor's PiiE (Professional Interactive Information Environment) 4.5 meets that challenge. It provides a sophisticated framework for linking data from multiple sources and presenting it in one interactive GUI. Taking the corporate adage, "You can't manage what you can't measure," to heart, PiiE constructs sophisticated dashboards that allow management or line workers to grapple with all the data generated by their company.
The result is what Digital Harbor calls a Business Ontology, which provides a more sophisticated view of data sources than would a plain set of database tables. The managers of a burger chain, for instance, might include information about sales, coupon usage, advertising purchases, and maybe even the weather. The relationships between tables and columns are built into the ontology and thus are available to guide any user who wants to explore the data.
Slicing Up the PiiE
Technically, the PiiE toolkit is a Java-based technology, but I wouldn't be surprised if many adopters never see a line of Java code while using it. The system includes a Smart Client application and a Fusion Server tool that both come with extensive visual development environments. Much of the programming requires drawing lines between boxes instead of typing out parsable Java.
Opinions regarding this approach will probably be split. I'm more of a meat-and-potatoes programmer, but a number of my good friends are firm believers in creating programs in UML by drawing lines between boxes. They'll be right at home in the PiiE environment, because much of the server and client configuration is done with visual tools that take in the ontology and spit out the XML used by the core applications.
All this information, which comes from multiple data sources, is stitched together with a UML-based visual language. When the design is completed, the PiiE server handles deployment by turning the lines and boxes into EJB that run on the embedded J2EE server.
The scope of the endeavor is impressive, and the PiiE system comes with several major applications that make the dashboard more flexible. The Enterprise Designer environment allows you to specify the data entities, the processes for analyzing the data, and the events that trigger the analysis. Sandia's Jess rules engine is also embedded in the system if you want to program the actions with rules logic.
The ontology used by the smart clients is designed by the Smart Client Builder environment, which stitches together Swing components. A fairly wide collection of Swing components can be linked together in the IDE to produce a smart client that will dynamically display information.
Some of these components are much more sophisticated than the average Swing canvas, and most standard data types come with special displays such as maps. The aforementioned burger managers might link together data and produce maps that compare burger sales with advertising penetration.