Review: Birst brings DIY to BI

With straightforward data access, automated modeling, and easy reporting tools, cloud-based Birst Enterprise is the data warehouse for the rest of us

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On the downside, dashboards can't be created ad hoc. You must first build reports from the Designer tab, save them, then use these as widgets in a dashboard layout. Some minor layout irregularities, sizing issues mostly, required a few round trips to the report Designer for manual adjustment.

I would like to see better write-back tools for what-if forecasting, such as those available in QlikView, where easy slider manipulation adjusts graphics in real time with updated perspectives. Birst's graphics are essentially static.

Finally, Birst reports are easily exported out of the browser -- either manually or via scheduled email delivery with attachments for PowerPoint, PDF, and Excel in tow. The chance to create a quick distribution list would have been nice, but email addresses can be entered manually, or a secondary report can be structured to manage distribution.

Data in, insights out
One of the challenges of the SaaS model -- for both providers and customers -- is managing the inevitable changes to the application. Birst rolls out updates regularly, and although you can control which engine is available to your users, you are limited to (roughly) two back-dot revs at any given time. As Birst retires older revs, users are automatically updated and pushed new features, some beta, whether they like it or not. Many IT shops would prefer tighter control over updates.

It should also be noted that Birst sells a virtual machine appliance for on-premise deployment and supports an API, but declined to provide either for this review.

Birst clearly has room to grow, but it's just as clearly moving in the right direction. 

With support for advanced features like slowly changing dimensions (to preserve reporting accuracy in the face of customer name changes, reassigned sales territories, and other alterations to the data) and "live access" connections (to remotely query on-premises OLAP data sources and XMLA cubes for additional analysis), Birst goes a long way toward meeting the needs of analytics experts, while also helping to sever BI from its IT-centric past and place it directly in the hands of business users.

This article, "Review: Birst brings DIY to BI," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in business intelligence, cloud computing, and big data at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

At a Glance
  • Cloud-based Birst really does bring advanced analytics to business users.

    Pros

    • Easy setup
    • Good data source management
    • Data loading and modeling accessible to nontechnical users
    • Easy, drag-and-drop data visualizations and reporting
    • Good support

    Cons

    • Limited forecasting tools
    • Browser and iPad access only; no rich client for the desktop
    • No support for NoSQL data sources

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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