Which data visualization tool to use?

The key aspects of any data visualization tool is to focus on your customer's needs. Now you can classify  (or rollup) your customers into three groups. Business Group: The business group are the folks who deal with viewing data and performing calculations based on their needs and requirements. This group may not have extremely strong technical skills. The key performance oriented concept for this group is to view data in different formats and maybe change the appearance of their reports  while showcasing the same to their target audience.

Technical Group: The technical group primarily contain members who not only view data but are also able to work with the tools used to fetch and visualize the data. This group of people need an extremely small amount of handholding once their dashboarding needs are satisfied.

Management Group: The management group comprises of the C level exec's, VP's and high level officials who just need to view data and understand the current trends effecting their respective organizations. This group of people primarily need statistical representation of information which is always static. They would not want to play around with the data as much as the business group of users do.
After this categorization of end users, let us focus on the kinds of reports which we normally tend to visualize within organizations:
  • Business Reports --> The business reports are those reports where the end users can manipulate the information displayed to them. The user base associated with this would primarily cater to the Business Group and at times the Management group. Maybe at times the technical group members might be interested in taking a look at these reports but essentially this is something these members would normally skip.
  • Operational Reports--> The operational reports are those reports which represent static information at any given point of time. The term static is used to express the fact that these reports will not be manipulated by the end user base and is basically a terse/concise representation of data points at any given point in time. The user base that would use these reports would primarily be members of the Technical group.

 

There is more detailed descriptions of these reporting facets plastered on the world wide web. Now let us come to the Crème de la Crème of this article and that is to emphasize which report needs to be used when and where:


Performance Point Services:
Pros:
· Self Service BI capability
· Ability to create user defined KPI’s over existing datasets
· Create Scorecards from different Datasets
· Minimal Learning curve
· Easy creation of effective dashboards
· Decomposition Tree to view the granularity across a dataset.
· Caching mechanism of PPS controls
· Mashups between PPS and SSRS possible.
Cons:
· Major IT dependency while configuring PPS on SharePoint 2010 (not while creating the reports)
· Too powerful for most users while trying to visualize data
· Deploying PPS libraries onto different web farms tends to be a bit tedious
· Consumes a large amount of memory and can slow systems down tremendously if compatible hardware is not provided. More information on Performance Point Services performance can be found at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff955652.aspx
· Consumption of PPS dashboards by multiple end users will definitely impact performance
· Exporting to different file formats is difficult to implement.
· Customization of PPS controls is not possible.
· Another key thing to note about PPS is the fact that rendering of information is a lot faster due to the caching mechanism but it tends to slow down when there are multiple PPS controls on the same page. (Limit: 4-5)
· Support for multiple data source within a single scorecard is not supported. This is only possible while defining the KPI.


SSRS:
Pros:
· Operational Reporting Tool
· Static visualization of data based on end user requirements
· Multiple data source support
· Mainly used for parameterized based reporting needs
· Can be exported to different formats
· Centralized distribution of reports
Cons:
· Requires constant IT support
· Extensive interaction with report not supported
· Requirements for these reports needs to be finalized and predetermined before deployment
· Data from multiple data sources are normally visualized using separate controls
· Issues with SharePoint integrated mode while trying to view multiple SSRS web parts. This will definitely affect the performance of the dashboard page. (limit if in SharePoint Integrated Mode: 4 else 5-6)


PowerPivot:
Pros:
· Self Service Capability Tool
· Allows the ability to visualize data in terms of a structured star or snow flake schema.
· Integration of different data sources
· Export data results to Excel files
· Allows adhoc scheduling of reports
· Support for large user Audience
· Great integration with SharePoint 2010.
· Creation of pivot grids or pivot charts on top of PPS is really simple.
Cons:
· Does not perform well with large datasets
· Can be confusing to end users while pulling information from multiple data sources.
· Learning transition curve is high
· DAX (data analysis expressions) would be part of the learning scope.
· Another major issue with PowerPivot is that connections refresh with the host can fail or will take longer while using it within SharePoint 2010 due to multi authentication and authorization calls between SharePoint, the powerpivot workbook and the back end.
Known issues are as follows-->http://powerpivotgeek.com/server-installation/reported-problems/


Report Builder
Pros:
· Business Reporting tool
· Broad User Audience based reports
· Can be exported to different formats
· Provides jazzy controls like sparklines, geospatial visualizations etc.
Cons:
· Needs an intermediary between business users and IT teams to develop reports
· More streamlined version of SSRS
· Configuration of Report Builder requires IT assistance


PowerView
Pros:
· Has a mix and match of pros and cons of PPS and PowerPivot.
· Allows the ability to visualize data in terms of a structured star or snow flake schema.
· Minimal Learning curve
· Easy creation of effective dashboards
· Works in the form of an excel pivot so very simple to use.
· Exporting to PowerPoint and showing quick and interactive presentations is possible.
Cons:
· Integration of different data sources · Creation is based on the tabular data model and does not provide support for the Multidimensional analysis support model · Currently couple of issues related to the performance within powerpoint presentations being rectified by Microsoft. · The architecture while working with a powerview presentation is that it works as a thick client on top of the PowerViewLibrary in Sharepoint so eventually a high speed network would defintely make life easier while working with PowerView.

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