Dashboard Insight recently spoke with Elad Israeli about his business intelligence solutions, in-memory technologies for Excel dashboards and what's in the pipe for SiSense.
Dashboard Insight: Tell us the history of SiSense.
Elad Israeli: Founded in 2004, SiSense is a business intelligence (BI) software vendor with a vision to change the way business intelligence is implemented and used in organizations. In particular, to bring more robust power and BI functionality to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
Despite the business intelligence boom earlier this decade, most SMBs still remain without a practical business intelligence option, and it is this gap that we are addressing with our solution.
SiSense has a long relationship with BI as it was founded by the same team who delivered the widely adopted MDXBuilder product, the first development environment over Microsoft OLAP. The team has a deep understanding of the business intelligence space and as a result, brings extensive experience to the methods of business intelligence implementation, usage and customer need response.
Our first product release, Prism, was launched in early 2008 and in August 2009, we've launched the latest version of our flagship product, called PrismCubed. PrismCubed delivers the final touches we needed to completely deliver on our vision to provide enterprise-class business intelligence for small and medium-sized businesses.
DI: Where does SiSense sit on the BI stack?
EI: SiSense provides an end-to-end solution for all situations that demand creation of dashboards, reports and general analytics. This includes all data preparation tasks including merging and cleansing data from multiple sources, creation of a dashboard or report, formulating of business queries and seamless publishing over the web. Our flagship product, PrismCubed, is all a business needs to create a business intelligence solution from the ground up and is effective for SMBs in all industries.
DI: Can you tell us about your desktop-based tool SiSense PrismCubed?
EI: PrismCubed is an integrated product for creating business intelligence solutions quickly without requiring any prior programming experience. PrismCubed provides non-developers with all the features and functionality they need to build and deploy business intelligence solutions themselves - without any prior business intelligence background.
PrismCubed is a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) environment where most functionality is executed using visual workflows and drag-and-drop tactics. Data integration, query formulation and result visualization are all done using an intuitive visual interface without any coding or scripting.
PrismCubed is based on a very powerful technology, transparent to the end user, that removes many of the major challenges typically encountered during the business intelligence development process, like writing SQL code, preparing data for analysis, coding business logic and dealing with query performance issues. Unlike other solutions, the creation of a first dashboard or report takes a few hours, or only a couple of days.
PrismCubed is desktop-based because the desktop is well suited for development purposes and allows for much richer functionality. However, the resulting application, be it a dashboard or report, is web based and accessible seamlessly through the web browser without client-side installations to complicate deployment. With applications developed with PrismCubed, users can publish their application to a web server, as a fully interactive web site, which will have a completely zero footprint on the client side.
DI: Can you elaborate on your SiSense in-memory technology for Excel dashboards?
EI: Our data handling technology is called ElastiCubes. ElastiCubes let you import data from Excel, or any other commonly used data format and use it in business intelligence applications.
ElastiCubes are essentially super-fast data stores that return query results very quickly without having to set them up on pricy servers. They are powered by a combination of a column-oriented database and in-memory query processing. ElastiCubes work both on a desktop for personal use as well as on a server for access by multiple users.
In an ElastiCube, data is stored on the hard drive, field-by-field rather than row-by-row as in relational databases. But the queries themselves are performed entirely inside the computer's memory, without any hard drive access to slow them down. When a field is required by a particular query, it is loaded into memory when the query is processed. This mechanism allows the amount of data in an ElastiCube to be practically unlimited. So you don't need to know anything about indexes, foreign keys and primary keys, or all that scary stuff just to make your dashboards work.
PrismCubed allows you to visually create ElastiCubes by pointing to the location of the source data and visually merging it if it happens to originate from different locations or data formats. This data can come from Excel workbooks, text files, database tables or a combination of all. ElastiCubes can also be set to refresh on a scheduled basis, to make sure your dashboards or reports are always up to date and reflect the most recent results as they become available, without re-doing all the work.
DI: As open source and SaaS applications gain popularity, what do you think the future holds for Microsoft Excel applications like SiSense PrismCubed?
EI: In terms of business intelligence, I'm not sure that open source applications are more popular today than they've been in the past. The dilemma with open source was and will remain its cost effectiveness in comparison to out-of-the-box solutions like PrismCubed. PrismCubed applications are developed in a fraction of the time a similar solution would be using any open source platform, and usually does not require any compromise on functionality.
When a business explores business intelligence options, licensing costs are not the only matter to be concerned with, although SiSense’s pricing model is specifically designed to meet the budgets of SMBs. A business has to consider the total cost of owning the system, which includes how much time it would take to implement it, what sort of third-party software will be required, the type of hardware the system would need and how the system is to be maintained.
On the other hand, hosted solutions (SaaS) have been gaining popularity, but this is more noticeable in vertical business intelligence solutions for specific-use cases, less for generic business intelligence applications. It is our responsibility, as a platform provider, to make sure the business intelligence applications created on our platform can run in the cloud as well as on premise, as indeed they do. It is up to the customers to decide which architecture they prefer.
DI: What is the process if someone wants to evaluate your solutions (community and enterprise)?
EI: A fully featured 30-day trial version of PrismCubed is available for immediate download at http://www.sisense.com. We also provide a free 30-minute online demonstration with a live representative, to take you through your first steps with PrismCubed, should you need it. By the time the evaluation period is over, you will know exactly what PrismCubed can do for you.
We also provide a free personal version. It imposes some restrictions on functionality, but for certain-use cases it's more than enough. All the information about the different licensing options is available on our website.
DI: What can we expect to see from SiSense in the coming months?
EI: We are working on expanding our functionality, including quite a few new product features which are mostly based on feedback from our expanding customer base. These include support for a wide variety of new data source formats as well as a more extensive library of data visualization widgets. We release an update every 1-2 months, so you can expect many new additions to the already comprehensive PrismCubed offering.
Elad is the co-founder and CEO of SiSense and brings more than 10 years of experience of implementing and marketing business intelligence solutions both in large enterprises and smaller businesses. Elad specializes in the design and marketing of development tools targeted for non-technical users. Prior to co-founding SiSense, Elad also co-founded MDXBuilder, a development environment for OLAP-based front-end tools.