Thursday, 28 March 2013

Charts mashups on Google Maps

Enterprise users are constantly exploring to design interactive data visualization tools for custom maps. This can be charts or map based reporting, which can display the information for each of the location depicted across the Google Map. Data values are displayed as points on the map and can be coordinates (Lat-Long pairs) or addresses. 

This was not the first time Sigma Infosolutions‘ Business Intelligence team was developing a simple charting individually or even the map based reporting individually. They have done a lot of reports which involves multiple dimensions to the data charted. But definitely, the combination of these 2 and to effectively show-up the data against a dimension, and mashup on a different dimension was a new and exciting challenge to have.
The Sigma Infoslutions‘ BI team started analyzing the technical feasibility and to understand how these 2 different styles of reporting works and combine them in a manner that they work with each other and get the desired result. 

Charting is usually done by getting the data from the relevant data source, which may include firing queries on the DB or parsing a feed, etc. and then supplying them for the charting tool in the manner it understands and can process and throw-up a chart showing the same.  Usually there is a  better control over the charting UI like sizing and selecting color according to the needs. It may also include any branding artifacts into visibility alongside the chart. 

The BI team triggered this charting process and throw-out a chart (which is usually an image file, a flash object or a collection of canvas objects assimilated together to form-up a chart). Sigma Infosolutions has the right layers in the UI taking care of these effects. 

The BI team knew how Google renders its maps and plots the location on the maps along with certain required measures, using the latlang values. To be more specific “Geocodes“. Of‘ course it requires an API key which can be easily got by referring to it’s documentation. It can then have any open source or custom functions available implemented which can take in various locations and output the series of corresponding geocodes as it finds best. You can easily get a map object created through Google JS APIs and get these LatLang values supplied into it to plot the map locations. Then apply a simple JS trick to override the basic way of how Google adds the typical ballons as plotting pointers into Google maps. Instead, we call upon our action as described above to get the charts as images and show them up on each of the plot locations. 

Bingo!! What you finally see is 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Big Data – Security Implications!

Big Data is the buzzword these days. Gartner has listed Big Data as one of the top 10 technology trends for the year 2013 and beyond (

Big Data is an industry trend that has several characteristics such as size of data such as Terabytes, Petabyte, Exabyte and higher. To put it simply, the volume of data is several magnitudes larger than traditional small data such as single enterprise data in the past. The other important aspects of big data are velocity, the near real-time data that an organization collects formally and informally via various data sources.  Big data velocity happens due to data coming in from data sources across geography, time zones and in quite a few cases twenty fours a day. The 3rd aspect of the Big Data collection is the variety that results in increased velocity of data acquisition. Datavariety includes the popular ones such as social data through formal channel such as blogs, feedback forms, data coming in via social data platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. All this data when collected, aggregated and analyzed constitute the big explosion of data in Big Data.

With Big data, comes the challenge of data security and privacy for organizations that deal with this data and try to make sense of the information in the data. We will try to uncover security and big data challenges organizations face in Big Data, with particular emphasis on organizations using the cloud infrastructure to power their business applications.

Big Data Security

Data security and data privacy are extremely important aspects to consider for any organization in the increasingly boundary-less, social and networked world. Big data poses additional challenges in the scale of data it presents to the enterprise. 

Data that an organization collects can be classified based on the business objectives of different data. Customer data that are essential for providing services to the customers needed to be handled differently to social data that the organization collects formally or informally (such as monitoring tweets and facebook messages). Customer data is typically data the customer creates directly by using a certain application or service of an organization that provides. Organization typically use and store data on behalf of the customer. For example, financial data, tax records are example of customer data that customer pays for various functional uses. This data can be shared with the organization that uses the data on behalf of the customer fully or partially, or this data is private to the user but an organization indirectly uses this data to provide some valuable service to the customers. The variations are many. 

The social data is used more for data mining and analysis of user provided data for getting insights in user behavior, buying or measuring user trends to mention the important ones.

Secure Data Infrastructure 

With the advent of public cloud service providers (CSP), the data security takes another dimension for security. How do CSPs secure data in their cloud infrastructure? The CSP needs to secure data and the application that handles data at the network level, at the host level and at the application level.

Network level security and host level security are part of SLAs that govern the data security agreement between an enterprise and the CSP. The CSP also need to confirm to various industry compliance standards such as ISO 27001/27002 and audit compliances such as SAS70 and others.

Host level security needs to take into account the operating system versions, patches, known security vulnerabilities as published by the OS vendor. In addition, virtualization software and documented risks in virtual machines (Java VM, .NET etc. need to be factored in as well.

Application level security compliance can be engineering web application confirming to web security principles such as being compliant with the foundations and guidelines laid down by The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP)

Secure Data Handling

Data also needs to be handled securely in the data life cycle depending on the priorities of how data is collected, stored, used, archived and disposed. The data security lifecycle needs to handle security at various stages:

•    Data transmission using secure transmission protocols
•    Data storage
•    Data processing, ensuring data while being processed in an unencrypted state is securely processed.
•    Data lineage – to ensure that audit trail is captured in the life cycle
•    Data provenance – data is not only secure but is also correct at any time.

All the above security measures are a must for data stored in 3rd party environment such as public cloud or CSP.

Data Access Identity Management
In a typical organization where applications are deployed internally or private data centers, the security is based on organization trust boundary. The trust boundary encompasses the network, systems, and applications hosted in a private data center managed by the IT department (sometimes third-party providers under IT supervision). Access to the network, systems, and applications is secured via network security controls including virtual private networks (VPNs), intrusion detection systems (IDSs), intrusion prevention systems (IPSs), and multifactor authentication.

However on the cloud environment, the organization’s trust boundary moves to the realm of cloud service provider. This may already be the case for most large enterprises engaged in e-commerce, supply chain management, outsourcing, and collaboration with partners and communities.It is imperative on the part of the organization to identify the identity management services offered by the cloud provider to ensure data access is controlled as per the organization defined access roles.

Privacy Issues
Data privacy is an often widely discussed and debated topic in any data collected by enterprises formally or informally. There is no universal agreement across nations and cultures on what data is private and what is not private. Privacy laws and rights govern how private data is collected, used, stored, interpreted and disposed as there are a lot of ambiguities in what constitutes a PII (Private Identifiable Information). Data collected through user-contributed data, social media contains private data that can be traced back to the particular identify of the individual. Securing such data is part of data governance policy measures such as removal of personal data related to race, gender, age, contact, credit rating, and loan and credit card details. Data mining techniques aggregate personal data for meaningful analysis for the purpose of predicting user behavior and testing hypothesis. At the same time data that are proscribed by users to be used and shared needs to be strictly adhered. The fine line between what is private and public in user-contributed data is difficult to ascertain easily in big data.

Strictly safeguarding the privacy of data is virtually impossible when the data needs to be shared with government agencies such as surveillance, taxation authorities and other government agencies that need access to private data. The problem gets a larger dimension with the size and scope of the virtual data as the channels of data collection varies by each source and not easily manageable as the lowest level of data comes from an individual, who may or not agree with an organization views of what constitutes data privacy.

We have looked at the challenges of securing data as part of Big Data collection and the various dimensions of security measures an organization needs to consider for using Big Data applications meaningfully.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Open Source Reporting on iPhones/iPads

Reporting on iPhones/iPads is an interesting area that has a lot of potential. Yes there is an easy possibility of rendering HTML based reports on an iPhone or similar devices. But those are still in a way the default browser content on which there’s no control of an iPhone’s inbuilt capability to recognize objects and present it in a manner easy for the user to view. It requires some adjustments before we can see it in action.

Open source reporting tool, Pentaho offers a great help in this area. Pentaho provides a plugin which can sit in the server and dynamically render the pages based on whether it is viewed from a typical desktop/laptop or through an iPhone device, for the entire reporting application. This might also be applicable if the results are embedded inside a page of another application through frames, etc.

Here is how it works: Firstly some interceptors are created to detect iPhone requests and re-route those requests to the correct iPhone view. Secondly, an extension is created to allow the parameter forms to render correctly on the iPhone. The user interface can still be designed to suite the branding requirements. The typical interfacing framework can be anything like iUI (User Interface Framework for Mobile Web Devices) and you can build a custom login page and Home page. You can then,
  • Create Navigational Menus and iPhone-style interfaces from standard HTML
  • Create modern mobile web pages
  • Handle phone orientation changes
  • Provide a more "iPhone-like" experience in your Web apps
Similarly, the code is available for android
Other than Login, Navigation, and Parameter Forms, no changes are actually necessary for Pentaho Platform. This is due to the combination of Pentaho rendering in standard formats, and the iPhone being able to render standard HTML and PDF pages. Below are some samples of the same.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

5 Reasons, SMB’s Should Invest in Business Intelligence Solution

BI turns data into actionable information which supports business in strategic decision making. A strategic deployment of a Business Intelligence solution can have a major impact on the growth and profitability of a company. BI has become quite the ‘buzzword’ in the software industry in the last few years. Many small business owners still relegate BI the domain of only large companies. When a BI solution is built specifically for SMBs, there’s no business too small. Business should understand what to be aware of and how to select the best software while sifting through the marketing buzz of BI trends. As we move towards the information edge, SMBs is now starting to realize that BI can benefit them too. Vendors are getting better at making software that’s easy to use and affordable. Technologies such as open source, cloud, in-memory and visualization technology are making BI tools much more friendly to SMBs.

Here are 5 real advantages that BI can deliver to SMBs:

1)    Information at your fingertips :-
In order to move towards any goal, you first need to know where you are. Manually monitoring your business just isn’t an option. You need the right information right time which meeting the stated business goals at your fingertips when needed. BI software can collect data from a number of sources for different purposes like Trend Analysis, monitor performance, track the marketplace, adjust business direction and plan for future changes. In short your data would be available on fingertip so that you can take strategical decisions in time to be ahead of your competitor Help to answer ‘what if’ questions with a click of a button for better forecasting.

2)    Boost Business Productivity :-
Small businesses, by nature, need to get more done with fewer people! One of the key benefits of BI is that it will automate reporting in your business, saving time and money in the process and ultimately increasing productivity. Reduce resources and labor costs used for the collation, analysis & distribution of vital business data. Can pull data in a format known by Business user to manipulate and distribute meaningful information in the familiar face. Traditionally take days every month to compile. BI can provide real-time automated reports, executable at the click of a button, which draw up-to-date trusted data directly from existing sources and deliver a single version of the truth. By providing on-demand real-time reports, BI plays a significant role in creating time-savings and increased productivity and allows you to start using the information in your system to more effectively manage the business.

3)    Effective Decision Making :-

Right Information can give a complete picture of the performance of your organization. The key performance indicator (KPI) which in turn helps in effective decision making in an identification of chances and risks. The most popular use of business intelligence is in Decision making by monitoring the current performance and forecasting future phenomena, such as customer behavior, demand, and inventory levels. Business intelligence provides you with solid, effective actions you can take to yield measurable results. BI techniques are already helping SMB alike to make smarter, better-informed business decisions. Opportunity, costs and risks can be evaluated up front.

4)    Immediate ROI :-
BI will bring down company's operational costs immediate by improving operational efficiency, minimized total cost of ownership and optimize business processes in the long run. A good business intelligence solution will not only create, but enforce processes to follow from day one. Different Types of ROI organization get benefited via BI solution - Revenue enhancement, Margin protection, Cost reduction, Cost avoidance, Capital cost avoidance, etc. Also see some intangible (qualitative) benefits of strategic value, such as faster reporting, better management information, better decision making, more productive users, efficiency, customer satisfaction, reducing risk and strategic attractiveness.

BI can help to get answers of all your 'W's' such as what, when, where, why etc. to GET WHAT YOU AIM FOR.
Get key business metrics reports when and where you need them. Also can access reports and dashboards on mobile devices like iPhone, iPad, Android or BlackBerry, giving sales and marketing people access to critical business information on the fly. Information with security and control across platforms and devices when & where, in a format as per need, with a single click or as an automated alerts for action. Right information to the right people at the right time using facts-based analysis. Competitive, legal and regulatory requirements can more easily be assessed and planned.
In short BI implementation will help you in achieving “what you aim for” your business.

Are you seeing this as a good deal or something more? Connect to us & we will be most happy to assist you Company wide BI implementation. Write to for a free BI consultation.

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Monday, 25 June 2012

What is Required to Start with Business Intelligence for Organization?

BI turns data into actionable information which support business in strategic decision making. Business Intelligence (BI) project assumes to be integrated with Data Warehouse (DWH) or other reporting solution like data repository or reporting from legacy systems. Therefore BI should be considered as DWH/BI project. So what is business intelligence, and how should your company get started with it? From the vendors’ perspective, business intelligence means software and services that they can sell to you to help you get more information from your existing data. But from Business perspective, business intelligence is more than just software; it is a strategy with specific supporting management processes. Prior to implementing a business intelligence initiative, organizations need to have an understanding of the following five elements.

1)    Understand the Need of Business Intelligence :-
It is important to have a fundamental understanding of business intelligence (BI) & how to adopt it to become useful for business. In short need to define the organization’s BI Philosophy with their strategic goals & Translate Strategy into Action. The communication of strategic goals and data collection is critical to successful BI. The organization needs to have answer of the question: ”What will accomplish with this initiative". Business units can cut significant costs while creating additional value through better coordination, integration, and quality of data and analytical functionality. Strategy for implementing BI projects can greatly upswing returns. Starting small (POC/section) is a good way to understand BI benefits.

2)    Analyze Internal Requirements :-
It is critical that you carefully analyze your current business methods and practices to determine specific objectives for BI implementation. The user requirements drive decisions about the data to incorporate in the data warehouse, how to organize (dimension) the data and how often to refresh the data. “Garbage in, garbage out” requirement should be precisely defined to align with the business needs. BI analysts often focus on the technical questions associated with the analysis. However, a more business-oriented approach could yield better results.

3)    Key Stakeholder Involvement :- 
Top Management, Business User, Operations etc. is the key stakeholders. The sooner you involve them the better you know about your requirements. Most BI projects considered to be the internal project which should meet the company’s internal requirements. However it should reflect the needs of customers and deal with external issues like market situation or customer’s behavior. BI project is organization-wide project, it should involve members from each department especially from Marketing and Sales departments who  appear to be the end-users of knowledge bound BI system. One should not consider internal requirements, but the market and customer requirements as well. Stakeholder involvement ensures full knowledge and understanding of the benefits, impacts and risks associated with BI Implementation. Effective stakeholder engagement is a key ingredient in the success of BI Implementation Project.

4)    Key Data Accessibility for Analysis and Presentation :-
We know that an organization's data is a major asset, and we are well aware of the importance of data quality. Develop & implement a data strategy in such a way that it should not frustrate users. Formulate an overall data strategy by asking, "What data do we need to run/analyze/present. How long, integrating with sources, Level of Detail, data privacy and security etc. BI typically involves the analysis, presentation and delivery of information to Business users via accessing repositories where data is brought together from many different systems across the organization. Business intelligence software promises better decision making and insight into company data, but both are possible with unbridled access to the information stored in a database. If you want to increase competitiveness, need to improve access to data across all levels of the company.

5)    Choose Right Technology Partner :-
The most important part is to make sure your BI initiative success is being evaluated and you have chosen the right Technology Partner. BI initiatives are vastly different from many past IT initiatives in which outside services have been retained. So it’s important to consider proven capability, reputation and track record of success more than just cost and/or staff augmentation abilities, while evaluating a partner. The partner should be able to understand and align with your strategy, take a business-driven approach and support the execution of specific initiatives to meet your business vision. Business should understand what to be aware of and how to select the best software while sifting through the marketing buzz of BI trends. POC, is a formal initiative to prove the viability of the technology as well as partner capability to meet a business defined requirement. Be aware of technology lock-in and know the cost of "getting out".