Aug 8, 2007

In case missed it, Apple enters the BI Industry

Yesterday, Apple introduced their new spreadsheet product Numbers. This is extremely exciting for me because I see it as BI done right. Now you may think that I'm just an over zealous Apple evangelist. Well, I am. But here is why I think, even if Numbers is a flop, that it will set a new bar for Business Intelligence.

First, Numbers removes barriers. Check out the demo for the Flexible canvas. Why did it take Apple to figure this out?!! How many times have you been building a spreadsheet that you want to look nice only to find that you have to split and merge cells in one table just to make another look nice. I predict Microsoft is having a huge "ah ha" moment over this. Duh.

Second, ease of use. Apple gets usability. Their products are beautiful because they are simple. Numbers is no different. Gee, make formulas human readable. What a novel concept. Drag and drop Sum, Max, Min, etc... again Duh.

Third, drag and drop layout and print view. This goes along with the first, but think about it for a second. With all the craze over Dashboards, why haven't any BI solutions made applications that create attractive and easy-to-assemble dashboards? Why does it take Apple to show us how easy it should be with a simple spreadsheet style platform? Well, they did and it's beautiful.

What's missing? A metadata interface. Now that we have an easy way to assemble our data and make it look great we need a way to get at our favorite data. Imagine for a second, that on the left side of Numbers there is an option for getting your data from a Data Warehouse, Web Site, Web 2.0 interface (i.e. RSS, WebService, etc), or XML & CSV files. Now imagine that you click on one of those and you get a Metadata explorer that shows user friendly views of your data. Now you simply choose the fields that you want, how you want it assembled, then poof!, the data is dropped into a table in your spreadsheet. Implement some eye candy such as Apple's "skim" feature to browse sample data, etc and you have an extremely powerful BI tool.

I admit that Apple probably wouldn't implement something like that in Numbers, but as a BI observer, I can't help but dream about this.

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