FASTforward: BI goes mainstream

Philip Bierhoff, Systems Manager at Proctor & Gamble, spoke about strategies to increase user adoption as business intelligence goes mainstream.

P&G’s Symphony project creates “decision cockpits”: dashboards based on specific roles and corporate divisions, and including information ranging from traditional BI reports to documents to news.

The underlying data landscape has moved from their first iteration of a common data warehouse in the mid-90s with regional servers plus ETL, storage and aggregation, where BI was driven by stored aggregations; to the current atomic data warehouse with a central server plus ETL and storage, where BI is driven by query rewrite — effectively, aggregation on the fly. They also have SAP generating data into SAP/BW; altogether, they have about 65TB in the data warehouse and 50TB in SAP/BW.

Originally, they used a traditional monolithic BI approach using a BI tool that acted as a portal as well as providing dashboards, graphs and reports as well as its own security layer. They had some challenges with scalability, and the boundary behavior when they pushed the size envelope. They felt restricted by the functionality of the tool, and by the lack of flexibility. Based on these restrictions, they developed a new vision of BI: one based on service-oriented architecture and industry standards, working directly from the corporate data warehouse instead of reporting data marts, and with a thin layer of BI as one of multiple layers of technology that could be changed out as required. The resulting solution uses an SOA-based (I assume JSR168-compliant) portal with various portlets, fed by FAST Radar for BI repots and graphs, and SharePoint for document storage. Under all of this is a service bus connecting to a data services platform, which in turn connects directly to the data warehouses and legacy applications. A WS-Security stack sits alongside to provide standard security and authentication.

They selected FAST Radar because it pairs simplicity with power for fast response times, fits into a portal architecture, downloads to common formats such as Excel and PDF, requires no data model maintenance and can use web services as a data source in additional to traditional database access. They’ve found that it needs very little training for creating and using reports, although they’re still using it only for predefined reports with drill-downs rather than allowing ad hoc report creation. The time to create complex reports has dropped from 30-60 seconds with the old BI tool to 5-10 seconds using FAST Radar.

The resulting architecture looks like a textbook example of how to do SOA correctly. They’re getting a good level of reuse from their services, especially the data access services, and they’re positioned for future extensions without completely overhauling the architecture. They’re able to provide customized dashboards for their 40,000-person user base in a reasonable time frame, in a large part because they’ve designed the underlying services and components for reuse.

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