Excerpt from the September/October 2009 Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter, by Stephen Few, linked above:
Customizable Analytics Requirements
To build custom analytical applications, you need programming power. The tool ideally exhibits the following characteristics:
• Provides the means to develop an application that supports precisely what’s needed in the most effective way possible. This requires a high degree of programmability, both in terms of power and flexibility.
• Provides ready-made libraries of useful functions that can be easily plugged into the application with much less effort than it would take to build them from scratch.
• Easy and efficient to use by those who develop the applications.
• Provides the means to remove everything from view in the ? nished application that isn’t needed.
• Provides the means to guide the analyst step by step through the process.
• Provides the means to coach the user through the process with instructions and examples, as needed.
One of the products that I’ve seen that seems to do this fairly well is QlikView. You don’t need to be a professional programmer to work with QlikView. Most of what you need exists as ready-made widgets (for example, particular charts with built-in functionality) that can be easily plugged into the developing application and much of the customization is done by selecting the appropriate parameters from lists that are found in dialog boxes. Programming code might need to be written, but it’s the exception, not the rule.
When you’re developing a custom analytical application, you don’t mind wading through lists of parameters in dialog boxes or writing a little code. Unlike the process of analysis itself when you must remain immersed in thinking about the data without distraction, these steps are less disruptive to developers. Although even developers benefit from programming interfaces that keep them focused on the task at hand, what they need most is the ability to do everything that’s needed, precisely and efficiently. Writing code in this case isn’t a distraction, it’s the task itself.
Tools such as QlikView are often handy because they have much of the infrastructure that is often needed for data analysis built right into the product, relieving us of the task of creating it, which in some cases would be virtually impossible. For example, QlikView includes a powerful in-memory management infrastructure that makes it possible for data to be manipulated at extremely fast speeds. This is powerful, because when you move a slider control to filter 100,000 rows of data or you drill from the country to the state level, you want the results of that action to appear without delay.
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