Speaking the language of business intelligence with an Australian accent

Friday, May 2, 2008

...but can I print it?

Many businesses these days are making a concerted effort to access as much BI data as possible through the browser. Funny thing is that once this wonderfully dynamic, interactive data is available in a thin-client environment all some users (still) want to do is print everything out (not just the summary page, everything) and then circle the important bits with a red pen.

The printability of an interactive dashboard or report and all the data that lies beneath still seems to find itself located high on the list of deliverables for many projects. Making a web-based BI solution printable can add a great deal of unnecessary complexity to something that should be kept as simple as possible.

It's ironic in these days of "going green" that organisations who pride themselves on their environmental friendliness and sustainable business practices are the ones who want to print out reams of report data. Now, please don't mistake me for an environmental zealot desperately trying to save trees; printing a page or two of report data is fine and can be very useful. But printing an entire "pack" that literally flattens out all that interactive, drillable goodness that that we work so hard to build really seems to be a waste, not so much of trees but of technology.

In this day and age where wireless hotspots and 3G cards abound, VPNs are commonplace and most employees work off a laptop why is there still a need to print large chunks of dynamic, highly-accessible, web-based data? Often the need to print everything is accompanied by requests for the data be available in the BI environment as close to real time as possible. This is a very reasonable request in many cases. Naturally the contents of the printed report is out of date very quickly as a result. Hmmm, maybe that's the reason Google haven't produced a book of their work yet. Pity. If they did then I'd to be able to bring my printed copy of the internet with me wherever I (and my staff of Google-book-carriers) go! I could even fold over the corner of the pages that I like and use my red pen to mark the interesting bits.

The short shelf life of printed report data reminded me of a classic sketch from an old radio program that I am certain some readers of this blog may have heard of - The Goon Show. Others may have no clue what I am talking about. Either way I am sure you'll get a kick out out of it *.

Bluebottle: What time is it Eccles?

Eccles: Err, just a minute. I've got it written down here on a piece of paper. A nice man wrote the time down for me this morning.

Bluebottle: Then why do you carry it around with you, Eccles?

Eccles: Well, if anybody asks me the time, I can show it to them.

Bluebottle: Wait a minute Eccles, my good man...

Eccles: What is it fellow?

Bluebottle: It's writted on this bit of paper, what is eight o'clock, is writted.

: I know that my good fellow. That's right. When I asked the fella to write it down, it was eight o'clock.

Bluebottle: Well then, supposing when somebody asks you the time, it isn't eight o'clock?

Eccles: Then I don't show it to them.

Bluebottle: Well how do you know when it's eight o'clock?

Eccles: I've got it written down on a piece of paper!

* copied from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Goon_Show#Surreality

If you want to listen to the audio of this sketch it can be found on the same Wikipedia page as the text above.


Darren Gosbell said...

Nick, I seem to be having some trouble printing this blog post....


Nick Barclay said...

Never fear, Darren! I have a hard copy around somewhere. I'll mail it to you, can you send me a stamped, self-addressed envelope?

Mark T said...

I can understand your frustration.

But until I get a hard copy, I don't feel like I really "have" anything. And I'm a programmer myself.

Also, users have experienced data changing or not even being available.

So they have proof if they have a hard copy.

To paraphrase an old dictum, If you don't have a hard copy, it isn't worth the paper it's written on!

Brookmyre said...

What about auditability and also requirements to "library" / archive old reports? I know you could rerun the report giving it a date as a parameter but if you have a per version or digital copy it will conform to exisiting compliance and process?

Anonymous said...

...try printing a PerformancePoint colour analytic chart on a colour printer. This was a big surprise to a client of ours :0

"...nope you cant print it."