Openbravo's User Experience Lab
GUI design, ERP Usability and Visual Design

The Family Grid - part II

Monday, July 12, 2010

Simple, real-time business intelligence by manipulating grids

Reporting is an essential part of everyday business and therefore an essential part of an ERP. Today´s businesses need relevant, up-to-date, accurate and consumable metrics that help them make the right decisions. Traditionally, reports are generated once in a while (month, quarter) and are exported to PDF for printing & annotating or Excel for further manipulation. Reports are used in presentations and meetings to look at past performance, understand the status quo and project future performance. The danger lies in the choice of dimensions and the interpretation of the data. Reports are static and generated as a one-off document with a set of dimensions, normally defined by a ready-made SQL query or via a visual query builder. Openbravo´s Sales Dimensional Reports allow the user to choose a number of filters and dimensions and even the sorting order can be set. This works well if the user knows in advance what metrics she is looking for and what data set she wants to look at. The drawback is that it does not allow analyzing the data in realtime by changing the filters and dimensions and looking at the impact on the results while doing so.

A while ago, in the Family Grid, I have presented a fairly abstract idea for basic business intelligence functionality by combining parent and child data in one grid, joining grids and filtering and aggregating columns. Now, I´d like to show you a more simplified version of this idea.

The Family Grid II scenario (download it here) lets the user view sales orders in one grid and a set of order lines for all of these in the other. Both the sales order grid and the order lines grid can be filtered on any attribute using column filters. Columns containing numerical values can be aggregated (sum, count, average, median). The grids can be joined (inner or outer join) with the click of a button which, for example, lets the user find all sales order that contain a certain product (or all sales that do not contain that certain product). Final result sets can be exported to Excel or PDF and the view (which is in fact a query rather than a report) can be saved for reuse.

It should be noted that this approach does not intend to replace traditional reporting because many SQL queries just cannot be build using the Family Grid. However, I believe that this way of manipulating grids is very powerful and can lead to insights that can be hard to discover using traditional one-way reporting. Playing with a data set in real time using parent and child grids, filters, aggregations and joins with an easy-to-use GUI lets non-expert users unlock the power of data in an ERP without having to invest in hi-end business intelligent software.

Are you as convinced as I am about the business value of this feature? Discuss it here.

By the way, we´re not happy with the name of this functionality. Family Grid does not cover it really. What about RapidGrid, GridSift, PowerGrid, Data Distiller, Metrix, EasyAnswer, RapidAnswer, IntelliGrid, "Openbravo RapidEdge Edition – the fastest way to start a competitive edge", "PerfectGrid - the fast & simple way to your information"?