Like any database system, there are a number of different tools available to make use of this information. The right tool depends on who your users are, what they want to get out of the system, and how technical they are, or want to be.
You would be hard pushed these days to find an organisation that does not run a significant portion of their business using Microsoft Excel. Most users are already familiar with this tool and will be up to speed in no time, with little or no training.
The most recent and exciting enhancement to Excel is PowerPivot. It's an in memory OLAP cube, which puts the power of server based OLAP cubes into the hands of your power users on their desktops. This provides phenomenal performance when analysing datasets previously unimaginable on a laptop or desktop PC.
All version of Excel can build pivot tables or pivot charts from data warehouses and OLAP cubes. From Excel 2007, this is taken a significant stage further, by including a comprehensive set of data analsysis tools, ranging from a pivot based cube browser, to in-built data mining and analysis tools. 'Slicers' were introduced in Excel 2010, which means you can now even create complex dashboards from right within Excel!
This is always a very goood place to start, and a launching platform from which other systems can be developed further.
At Purple Frog we recommend SQL Server to the majority of our customers, primarily because the ROI far exceeds any other platform. The licencing model is significantly cheaper than virtually all other Business Intelligence platforms, and it offers a complete end-to-end solution, including Reporting Services.
SSRS is a web based reporting engine, that can combine data from your existing source systems, data warehouses and OLAP cubes, and present them in a flexible but powerful way. All the users need is a web browser, so there are no security or deployment issues to worry about.
SSRS provides an interactive reporting environment, including drill through reports, charts, tables and matrix (pivot) reports. Any number of these can be included in each report, sourcing data from any number of places.
Either Purple Frog can create a set of reports for you, or you can create your own. It can be fully integrated into Sharepoint, or your existing intranet environment.
It's true that QlikTech promote QlikView as an all encompassing Business Intelligence solution that does away with the need for a data warehouse. At Purple Frog we agree with this for small implementations where the source data is already clean and reliable, and the need for data remode ling is insignificant. The majority of systems are unfortunately not quite this simple, and we firmly believe that the data warehouse is, and will remain, the cornerstone of any scalable and reliable BI infrastructure.
Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, there is no doubt that QlikView's dashboard interface is a fantastic tool. Once you've plugged it into your data layer you have an incredibly powerful 'click to slice and dice' interface which can be built incredibly quickly.
Microsoft aquired the market leader in BI visualisation tools, Proclarity, in 2006 and has since been incorporating its functionality into their PerformancePoint Server product.
PerformancePoint is a web based dashboard, scorecard and data visualisation system, that provides instant metrics on different aspects of your business. It allows you to see at a glance how your organisation is performing, and whether any aspects need closer attention. If they do, you can drill through the problematic metric into more detailed reports, charts and data grids until you find the source of the problem.
Business Objects now includes Crystal Reports, and is a popular tool to use for Business Intelligence reporting. It is now part of the SAP group of companies.
Business Objects offers a broad family of tools and applications to help teams optimize business performance by connecting people, information and businesses across the business network, regardless of the underlying business applications or data stores.
Cognos is the IBM alternative to Microsoft's PerformancePoint and Analysis Services.
Cognos is a BI platform that sits on top of your existing systems, and offers reporting, dashboards and scorecarding. Similar to QlikView, we usually recommend that it's used on top of a data warehouse, however for smaller implementations it can be used as a complete end to end system.