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BIRT 3.7 Report Design Refcard - Meet the Author: Michael Williams

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BIRT 3.7 Report Design Refcard - Meet the Author: Michael Williams

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With over 10 million downloads and 1 million users around the globe, BIRT is one of the most widely adopted business intelligence and reporting technologies out there.  It certainly helps that it's free and open source under the banner of the Eclipse Foundation.  BIRT is also constantly improving with several new features in version 3.7 for connecting to Hadoop and Hive (Big) data sources.  Here today we will hear from Michael Williams, the author of the new BIRT 3.7 Report Design Refcard, released today.

DZone: Could you introduce yourself please?

Michael Williams:
My name is Michael Williams.  I received a computer engineering degree from the University of Kansas, in 2004.  I've been working with BIRT for the past 4 years as a Developer Evangelist for Actuate.  My role with Actuate includes providing technical content, like BIRT Examples, blogging about BIRT, and forum post responses, for the BIRT-Exchange website and to be a technical presence at shows for the BIRT-Exchange booth.  Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my beautiful wife, Rebecca, and my darling little red headed, 1 year old daughter, Bristolynn.  I also enjoy golfing, running, and watching my Jayhawks!
DZone: What are some best practices that developers can learn to make them good at reporting and keep this task engaging?

Michael:  Some best practices for reporting would be to create libraries and templates to be able to re-use as many components as you can and to be able to keep a consistent theme with your reports.  Also, when needing to limit your data, especially when your report will consume large amounts of it, the earlier you can filter your results, the better.  For example, if you're using SQL, limiting your data in your query will be fastest.  If you're not using SQL, putting your filter on your dataSet, if possible, will be better than filtering your table in your design.  Another tip would be to be “smart” when designing your report layout.  The simpler you can keep your design, i.e. flatter with less levels of embedding, the faster it will run.  You’ll probably have lots more questions once you get started using BIRT, so be sure to visit the BIRT Exchange forums, where many BIRT experts hang out to help.
DZone: What are some of the key things developers should know about Business Intelligence in today's IT landscape?

Michael:  As national and global competition grows, BI and reporting also become more important.  With data more live and readily available than ever, getting the right data to the right people, in a timely manner is huge.  This goes for internal information and for getting appropriate information to your users/customers.  Getting data to the end user in a useful and digestible way can be the difference between success and failure.  BIRT, designed from the ground up with extensibility in mind, has the right bones to keep up with today’s changes.
DZone: How is BIRT keeping up with trends like Big Data and how does it fit into this new drive for more diverse data types and more advanced analytics tools?

Michael:  For some companies, their data is becoming much larger than relational databases can handle, so these organizations are moving to new systems, like Hadoop.  With BIRT 3.7, BIRT introduced a new Hive/Hadoop dataSource that provides a JDBC driver that supports access to Hadoop data through Hive, using HQL.  BIRT also has extension points, which allows you to create your own Open Data Access (ODA) drivers, to connect to your data, if using another Big Data system.  There is also a scripted datasource which allows you to connect to any data that you can access with java/javascript.
DZone: What additonal resources would you recommend to supplement the reading of your Refcard?

Michael:  Aside from the Refcard, a resource that is very helpful for finding a solution to your issue or to simply learn more about BIRT, is the BIRT-Exchange.org website.  There is a devShare that contains hundreds of examples, a very active forum, blogs, a marketplace containing helpful plug-ins, a place to download BIRT, etc.  There are also several books available.  The most detailed books are probably the Eclipse Series books, "BIRT: A Field Guide" and "Integrating and Extending BIRT".

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