BI Harnesses The Power of Javascript and AJAX – So Is the Portal Dead?

Looking at the some of the latest enhancements coming out of BI vendors it would seem that the vendors are certainly getting to grips with Web 2.0. In particular the power of Javascript and AJAX is opening up new ways to distribute intelligence and to keep tabs on key performance indicators and metrics. A few examples here are (in alphabetical order) Business Objects and Information Builders. Business Objects Labs have been pushing out tools like BI Desktop and BI Masher. BI Desktop starts the ball rolling on “BI Widgets” which can leverage Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) to access BI services that in turn give access to metrics data. Those familiar with Microsoft Vista will understand the Vista Gadgets that are on the desktop. This concept is the same with components on the desktop that users can configure to fit their needs. In addition web reports are also now exploiting Javascript to asynchronously request additional information from non-BI services to allow enrichment of information on the reports. This means that BI Mashups that combine BI and non-BI content on a report are on the way.

Not to be upstaged, Information Builders are spicing up reports with their Active Reports capability whereby the use of Javascript once again allows a much richer report to be made available to the user whereby much more report functionality and processing can be done client side in the browser . In addition Information Builders have also made it possible for data to be included in Active Reports so that users can conveniently take reports on the road with them in disconnected mode and carry on analysing. This they refer to as Active Reports with Quick Data.


Both of these are examples of how vendors are exploiting the power of Javascript and AJAX in BI technologies. I expect a lot more of this in the next 12 months. We may even see BI frameworks appearing whereby users can rapidly “compose” BI applications by leveraging pre-built visual components available in BI frameworks. The only hint of caution here is that if you are looking at this please don’t assume all browsers are the same. There are differences across IE, Firefox, Opera and Safari when it comes to processing scripting languages. So what works on one may not on another. Also don’t assume interoperability between the visual components if the components are all built using different tools.

Just like on the web today where there are hundreds of AJAX frameworks are available in abundance for rapid development there is a strong likelihood that several BI frameworks may well appear inviting end users to leverage BI “composition” tools to rapidly assemble visual BI and non-BI components into custom built rich interactive analytic applications (mashups). If multiple BI frameworks do appear we may well get caught up in the buzz of new technology and trailblaze building BI visual components galore without concern for the bigger picture of how these components all fit together on a page, how they are uniquely identified, how you deal with security when it comes to access them. or how they are managed. If you are building a personal dashboard then it may be OK because you are dealing with one technology but what about building sharable dashboards for the enterprise . In my opinion it depends where the visual components are aggregated into the page and what does this. A portal does this on the server by aggregating portlets to construct a page before serving up the page to the browser. Portlet interoperability is either proprietary to the portal product or standard via JSR 286 (successor to JSR 168 which does not support portlet interoperability) standard portlet interoperability.


However if BI vendors select Javascript as the mechanism to assemble (aggregate) BI visual components on to a page by using Javascript on the client (i.e. in the browser) to do this then I see no standard for visual component interoperability on the web page or between desktop widgets – it would have to be proprietary.


If you’re company has multiple BI tools (which is often the norm especially in large enterprises) you may well find business analysts composing BI dashboards without IT even knowing about it. The problem is how to bring it all under the wing of the enterprise when a business user wants to mix and match BI and non-BI visual components that are assembled client side when there are no standards. The portal is certainly not dead as it can handle this. Also AJAX is not an alternative to portals – AJAX components can in fact be integrated into portals as AJAX portlets. For this reason, portal vendors are bundling industry standard (JSR 168/286) portlet containers for free with application servers and not just as part of their portal server products so that you turn AJAX BI components into portlets without the need for a portlet development and still allow rich user interface interactions with portlet interoperability. As far as stand-alone AJAX interoperability is concerned, my suggestion is to watch what happens at the openAJAX consortium. Interesting that apart from the four software giants (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP) not a single independent BI vendor is a member! Seems to me its about time they joined.


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