May 19, 2005

Eclipse: Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools

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I quite often find myself wanting to get little reports out of different systems (generally blogs, but sometimes SSO or something else) and unless you've already created some nice reporting screens, it comes down to getting out your SQL tool of choice (Tora) and writing some SQL. Once you've got your data, you might then dump it into Excel and make some nice graphs. All in all, it's a pain in the ass, and you might end up doing the same thing over and over again.

If it annoys you enough, you might end up getting around to writing some code to do it for you automatically within your application, but this isn't the most flexible solution.

Whilst upgrading to the latest and very speedy Eclipse M7, I noticed BIRT. BIRT is a set of Eclipse plugins that can do business reporting for you. Having not worked with any other reporting tools before (and I'm sure there are some great and expensive ones), I didn't have much to base any investigations on, but I thought I'd have a look anyway.

Within about half an hour I'd vaguely got my head around it and could produce basic reports. It goes something like this:

  1. Create new empty report (optionally choosing a template)
  2. Set up a datasource pointing to your data
  3. Create a dataset that contains some particular chunks of data you're interested in
  4. Bind the dataset and datasource to an element in your report, such as a table or a pie chart
  5. Do a live preview of your report, showing a nice and always up to date report. Lovely.

That's about as far as I've gone, but it does work. I've not managed to make my reports look all that great so far, but it does look promising. In the ideal world I'd be able to do this and then publish the reports onto an app server and be able to visit it whenever I liked (and I may be able to, I've just not found that out yet), but it'll do for now.

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