December 28, 2016

Steel Wheels ?

All Business Analytics software platforms come with a sample data set and sample functionality. Usually this involves a fictitious company with fictitious products and fictitious users, a scenario, easy to understand for any end-user or IT-developer.

The objectives of such a set of sample data and sample analytics content are multiple:
1) offer a real-world context that both technical and non-technical people can grasp,
2) show within that context what the software has to offer (for evaluation purpuses),
3) offer a demo environment for sales purposes,
4) offer a tool-set for customer support to communicate and test on specific issues,
5) offer a common piece of common starter code for developers to collaborate against.

Microsoft has it's Northwind and Adventureworks databases, and the derived Foodmart for OLAP. Oracle has the employee data in the Scott/Tiger schema. Business Objects used to ship with the eFashion.mdb and eFashion.unv, Crystal Reports used the Xtreme data, and Cognos comes with the Great Outdoors Company data. The newer players on the market seem to offer more. Tableau offers several data sets. Qlikview have made sample applications part of their marketing strategy and have released hundreds of them in their demo gallery.

So let's take a moment and see what Pentaho has to offer in Pentaho EE 7. Pentaho has the Steel Wheels demo installed with a standard installation. As you log in to the Pentaho User Console (EE Trial Edition) the Welcome screen walks you through some of the samples. 

So how good is this demo really?

Once you open up the Browse Files perspective, you can actually see that the amount of actual reports and dashboards offered by SteelWheels, isn't very elaborate. 17 reports/dashboards in total are available. In all fairness, not a very elaborate amount. 

And if you look under the covers, the complexity of the available content does not nearly cover the functionality and actual strengths of the Pentaho platform.

Also the data set itself is pretty limited. If you open up the sample database, located in a HyperSonic database in the install directory/server/hsql-sample-database folder, then you'll see there is only a handful of tables in the sample database, and the amount of data in the tables, is not what you would expect from a "big data company".

But obviously a lot of the above has a simple explanation or even needs no explaining to those who have followed Pentaho over the years. The demo holds a lot of the heritage from when Pentaho was the affordable open source business analytics alternative for the SMB market. The company has come a long way since. And business analytics demo for the SMB market is a totally different thing than a big data analytics demo for the enterprise space. In essence, SteelWheels has not evolved a lot, while Pentaho has, and fast

Where am I going with this blog post?

Simple. Over the years, working with Pentaho, I've learned to extend and adapt SteelWheels to my needs. The demo is what it is. And not withstanding it's current limitations, provided you know it, you can turn it rapidly into the tool you need for whatever demo or presentation you need.

Knowing that Steel Wheels is the standard demo instrument that Pentaho makes available to all customers, resellers, partners, developers and community members, I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned over the years. I hope some of these tips and tricks can help you to turn the available demo, into a platform that helps you credibly demo the full potential of Pentaho.

The end goal? I hope that in sharing my lessons learned, others will start to submit their contributions. Maybe we'll collect sufficient materials to release Steel Wheels v4.0 and move from th Rusty Wheels to Stainless or Reinforced Steel Wheels. (My puns are aweful!)

Watch this space!

For those who used to read my blog posts years ago, when I was a more active Pentaho Community blogger, I used to add soundtracks to my blog posts. Here is the appropriate (and predictable) soundtrack for this post. Enjoy.