Report Mining – Minimally Invasive BI

Every organization of any size has reports – usually too many, often largely unread, and typically a gold mine of information not available elsewhere without substantial investment of time and resources, even if the tools are available. Where existing reports are in place and in wide use – such as those accompanying packaged ERP, CRM and other software, or in “production reporting systems” that have been in place for years – they are an excellent source of predigested information. Monarch BI Server from Datawatch can unlock this information for a fraction of the cost and effort associated with new BI projects – and rapidly.

The Monarch product family is hardly new: the first product shipped in 1991, and today Datawatch is a $20M company with 35,000 organizations using its products – some 400,000 users. Use cases abound but they share some common themes – “don’t have time, don’t have money, use Excel (and sometimes other tools) but can’t get the data.” And yet, there it is, in plain sight – in the middle of a lot of other data, to be sure, but somewhere in that stack of paper (when I was just a lad, it was green-bar paper and we [often mis-]typed it into VisiCalc. But that’s another story.) Financial reports are by far the most typical source, but there is a wealth of case studies on Datawatch’s web site – and they tell a wonderful set of stories.

Make no mistake, using this information is non-trivial unless you have automation – it needs to be parsed, filtered, aggregations decoded, and maybe some transformation applied. And then it has to be exported into the format of your choice. The good news is that with nearly two decades of experience, the Monarch product crew has seen it all and decoded it by now – and has built automation and user interfaces that make it simple and quick. Sort and filter data, merge multiple data sources, calculate new fields, build automated graphs, do trending across reports that are issued on a schedule – it’s all built in.

Beyond the obvious attractiveness of its immediacy, the Monarch family of products offer some other intriguing benefits. Consider the cost of an SAP license for users who only run an occasional report. Consider the cost of running that report multiple times, for multiple people, who then do goodness knows what with the data – in different ways that may conflict. How much better to run the report once and make it available via browser with standard data export mechanisms. In many ways, the Monarch family of products ought to be thought of as a utility buy – canned reports, PDFs, etc abound in most organizations storage and are woefully underused. If you’re struggling with project overload, fighting budget constraints and have a good deal of data in reports already, you should investigate the Monarch product family. There are some other products out there, but Datawatch has the riches, most mature set and ought to be on your short list.

[Added June 15, 2009]

I received a comment from Mike Urbonas on my other blog site at B-Eye Network, where this was also posted:

Hi Merv. Having been “the” technology evangelist for Monarch for the last 10 years (I no longer work for the company now), and a Monarch power user since Monarch for DOS in 1991, I certainly agree Monarch is a great programming-free BI solution very worthy of consideration. I am also glad you think so highly of the library of Monarch case studies; I wrote them! I would also like to encourage you and all Monarch users to an excellent independent website, http://www.excelwithmonarch.com, a blog by financial systems analyst Mr. Sandy Cavalaris dedicated to effectively utilizing Monarch in tandem with Excel in very clever ways. In his latest post, Sandy uses Monarch to transform the list of Chrysler dealerships to be closed (a PDF file) into analyzable data. It gives the reader a good idea of the kind of thinking-outside-the-box analysis possible with Monarch and data sources beyond structured databases.

About Merv Adrian
Gartner Research VP, technology analyst and consultant, 30 years of industry experience, covering software mostly, hardware sometimes.

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