RSI: BI’s Best Kept Secret?

With a new Flash-powered PM product in the offing and ETL connectivity in the can, Relational Solutions Inc. might be the best kept secret in BI.

When it comes to ETL, performance management (PM), and a host of other technology buzzwords, Relational Solutions Inc. (RSI) might be the best kept secret in the BI industry. With a dozen years of experience under its belt, a full-fledged ETL tool (complete with a point-and-click, drag-and-drop, .NET-based ETL design studio), and a new Macromedia Flash-powered PM product in the offing, RSI seems primed for success. Eventually.

RSI started out as a Cleveland-based consultancy. It still offers consulting and integration services, along with industry-specific solutions. (RSI markets a dedicated PM solution for the retail and consumer goods industries, dubbed POSmart.) Next month, however, RSI is expected to unveil its first-ever PM tool, a dashboard-like offering (instead of a dashboard, it uses an interactive "Daily Planner") called BlueSky Performance Books.

Performance Books boasts a slick, Flash-powered user interface: it organizes KPIs by tabs; displays its graphs, charts, and other indicators in a virtual notebook view (complete with a spiral ring at its center); lets users dynamically drag, shuffle, or rearrange performance indicators; supports interactive drill-down; and integrates with Microsoft Excel. Above all else, it presents users with the intelligible look and feel of the garden-variety daily planner.

Big deal, right? After all, Flash-powered PM solutions are a dime-a-dozen, these days—or so it seems, anyway. RSI officials beg to differ, however. They cite a roster of competitive differentiators—including built-in ETL connectivity—which they say will help set BlueSky Performance Books apart from the PM main.

"Performance Books can be driven from a data warehouse or a data mart, or any other data source, so I can set this up to go after an ERP system if I wanted to," says RSI co-founder and COO Janet Dorenkott. "It’s very cost-effective. You don’t need to have a massive infrastructure in place to support this, because there’s a data integration piece built right in."

Data integration comes courtesy of a canned version of BlueSky Integration Studio (BIS), RSI’s own ETL tool, which boasts native connectivity into both Oracle and SQL Server, as well as connectivity (via ODBC or similar technologies) into other data sources, too. BIS ships with a drag-and-drop ETL studio—complete with support for EDI, AS2, and other industry-specific (or esoteric) standards—which isn’t entirely replicated in Performance Books.

BIS is designed primarily for ETL or data architects, Dorenkott says, while the administrative or design features of Performance Books have been tweaked for business analysts and power users, in addition to ETL or data architects. As a result, Performance Books features a drag-and-drop connectivity facility that’s more straightforward than that which ships with BIS. The idea, says RSI co-founder and president Rob York, is to give business analysts or power users a point-and-click—largely declarative—way to create their own PM applications, complete with connectivity to common data sources.

This canned capability is limited in terms of the number of simultaneous data sources it can pull from, however. For more complex application views—requiring simultaneous access to several different data sources—organizations will need to tap the full-fledged BIS tool, he confirms. "The admin application [for Performance Books] is basically built for the power user, so we’ve made it more intuitive, because they’re not going to understand all that other stuff [in BIS]. So it’s a limited-use version embedded in Performance Books. If they wanted to upgrade to BIS, they certainly can do that," York says.

For customers that opt to do just that, Integration between BIS and Performance Books is a cinch, according to York. "You can join multiple sources together into a single multi-book graph. If you need to pull [everything] together, you can go right into the BIS and we have an object in BIS for Performance Books. I can say, ‘I’ve got something coming from SQL Server and something from Oracle, and I want to join those together and load up Performance Books.’ This lets me pull together [data from] disparate sources and push [it] into Performance Books."

In the near future, RSI also plans to augment BIS (and Performance Books) with a trickle ETL capability. This will give decision-makers near-real-time (or "right-time") access to performance information. "With this [trickle ETL feature], you can create a performance book chart and it’ll update every 15 to 20 minutes. You can literally specify how long or short you want the [update] window to be when you’re creating it [the ETL job]," York says.

With canned ETL connectivity, drag-and-drop application design, and an integrated Flash engine, Performance Books is a mostly self-contained proposition. For this reason, Dorenkott indicates, it can complement—i.e., sit right on top of—the monolithic BI suites in which many organizations invest.

"We can sit on top of any of those [BI suites]. Pfizer had MicroStrategy and Cognos; they chose our BI portal [BlueSky Portal], and now they’re looking at [Performance Books]. What they like about it is you don’t need to have a team of people just to manage this thing, whereas with MicroStrategy, they have three or four people just to manage it," she comments. "So we’ve taken this very simple approach. A lot of other vendors have gotten so big, and they’re publicly-traded and so everything is dependent on them selling that thick, layered architecture to drive their earnings," she comments.

RSI expects to deliver Performance Books next month, York says: "We’re right now rolling it into final beta, and we’re actually testing it at customer sites."

Setup, he insists, is a snap, thanks to Performance Book’s built-in connectivity, as well as a few other ease-of-use features, too. "It can be set up in a range any way our customers deem necessary, so they can actually set their quadrants up to meet [the] different levels of a drill-down, which is really nice, because executives and management don’t need to know how to double-click to drill-down—it’s already done for them," he concludes. "As for the setup, a power user can do it. We didn’t want to necessarily force this to be an IT function to set this up. You have the flexibility to go either way."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.