IT intelligence: Finding and using information 2

Robin Fisk continues his series about how best to find and use information.

Managers constantly produce data about how they and their staff perform. Organisations then pull this together to get an overall view. Analysts pore over it, applying statistical models to reveal trends and influences. This means boiling down millions of pieces of data so they can be presented as simply as possible.

These tasks would be impossible without technology. This and my next article will provide an overview of the kinds of technology available.

Underlying any data system is the database. Common relational database management systems include Oracle, MySQL and SQL Server. Reporting and analysis software connects to the database to enable its data to be presented as information.

Report presentation is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Organisations are moving from print to the web, making it easy to process and access information from anywhere.

Reporting products include Microsoft's Reporting and Analysis services, Crystal and R&R. Many people do not realise the reporting power of Excel. Entire management reporting suites have been created in Excel, rendering it a low-cost way of achieving what you need. Excel 2007 now provides powerful links to SQL Server's Analysis Services.

Good reports provide a lot of information in an easily understood style. I would recommend presenting information in columnar, tabular and pivot-table format. Pivot tables are an acquired taste, but can pack lots of information into a small space.

Finally, it is not for everyone to learn how to use report-writing software. Some people will not have the time or inclination to sit in front of reporting software for hours, so it may be best to work out in advance who will fulfil that role in your team.

- Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.

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