March 13, 2013

Is it Possible to Realize Self-reporting for Users without IT Expertise?

The reporting tool is the software to present the table and statistics chart dynamically. It is the basic requirements for business, a basic means of running business, and the basis for boosting competitiveness. It is the most common tools for business personnel. However, using the traditional reporting tool requires a relatively stronger technical background. The average business personnel cannot handle it independently, and thus lots of problems are brought about: The business personnel is quite inefficient in preparing the report, the time-spanning is quite great, and the commercial opportunity can be slipped away easily; The report designed by technical personnel can easily bring about the errors on business logics, and mislead the enterprise decision; As the result of cooperation between the technical personnel and the business personnel, the report may deviate from the actual business, and fails to reflect the actual state of the businesses affairs.

For example, Bill is the sales director of a certain pharmaceutical company. He is in urgent need to prepare a certain product sales report to impress the clients in an important bidding event. This report requires presenting the monthly sales value, monthly growth, and year-over-year growth of these 3 products, as shown in the below figure:

However, he found that this report does not exist in the information management system of the company. Therefore, he himself and sales team tries to prepare this report by themselves. Quite soon, they found that many obstacles are unconquerable, for example, they needs SQL statements to retrieve the data, the complex expressions for filtering and processing, and the abstract expression for month-over-month comparison or link relative ratio calculation. Bill can do nothing but abandon the report, which greatly reduced the eventual effect of presentation.

There are still other similar cases available:

A retailer newly launched a supply-chain management system, and arranged the business personnel for fabricating the report. The business personnel have grasped a great many of fabrication skills for traditional reports. However, they still act slowly when preparing the simple report, and cannot fabricate the complex table.

A bank improves its business procedure that requires the modification on the corresponding reports. However, from the IT team point of view, the report modification so complex that the procedure will have to be simplified. As a result of compromising, the procedure is partly simplified, and some reports are modified.

When preparing the report related to Clinical Practice, the IT technician from the report vendor mixed up with the AE (Adverse Event) and SAE (Serious Adverse Event) concepts, which leads to the error of the key indicators.

As can be seen from the above examples, the technical obstacles have hindered the development of traditional reporting tools because of the native drawbacks of traditional reporting tools:

To retrieve the numbers, SQL statements become a must

For example, the 1st step to prepare the report is to retrieve the data, and the data is usually stored in the database. Therefore, we need to compose SQL statements.

In the case of "Specific Product Sales Report", the relevant data is stored in the 2 physical tables. The primary data of mediSales table is as follows:

The primary data of mediInfo table is as follows:

There are multiple ways to retrieve the data through SQL. In the extreme cases, although a long SQL statement can be used to calculate out the final report result, it is a bit too complex and the existence of reporting tool becomes ultimately meaningless. The simplest way is to split it into 2 statements. Firstly, retrieve the sales data from Jul to Dec of this year from mediSales table, as shown below:

SELECT mediSales.OrderID,mediSales.OrderDate,mediSales.Quantity,mediSales.mediID from mediSales
where ( mediSales.OrderDate>=#7/1/09# and mediSales.OrderDate<=#2009-12-31#)
or( mediSales.OrderDate>=#7/1/10# and mediSales.OrderDate<=#2010-12-31#);

The result is:

Then, retrieve the specific 3 products from mediInfo, as shown in the below figure:

SELECT mediInfo.MediID, mediInfo.MediName ,mediInfo.UnitPrice from mediInfo
where mediInfo.MediName in('ApXXXX','GpXXXX','JiXXXX');

The efficiency will be much higher if combining both of these 2 actions, and SQL makes it a bit more complex:

SELECT mediSales.OrderID,mediSales.OrderDate,mediSales.Quantity,mediInfo.MediName,mediInfo.UnitPrice from mediSales,mediInfo
where(( mediSales.OrderDate>=#7/1/09# and mediSales.OrderDate<=#2009-12-31#)
or( mediSales.OrderDate>=#7/1/10# and mediSales.OrderDate<=#2010-12-31#))
and mediInfo.MediID=mediSales.MediID and mediInfo.MediName in('ApXXXX','GpXXXX','JiXXXX');

SQL is the commonest database query language. Theoretically, they can be used to complete any complex data processing procedure. However, since it is a tool specially designed for IT technician, it becomes the impassable technical obstacle for business personnel as they will have to learn the primary key and foreign key, BCNF, association, nested query, etc. For the business personnel, learning these contents out the range of their major expertise is not only wasting their energies, but also of the bad effect. They needs a tool highly SQL visualized.

In addition, as for the data from text file and other non-databases, the senior languages like Perl and Java are often required to retrieve the data that requires the relatively higher technical standards.

The obstacle to data retrieval blocks in the way to reporting by the business personnel themselves.

There are also other native drawbacks of traditional reporting tools:
  • Data management requires the complex scripts
  • The commonest calculation cannot be implemented without involving the IT technicians
  • There are many limitations on the band-style report
What's the solution? For example, esCalc has been recognized in business computation powered totally by users primarily through word of mouth. It excels in visualized data computing, smarter spreadsheet calculating and professional self-service reports.

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