A few fellow CapTechers and I recently had the opportunity to attend on-site training for LogiXML's Business Intelligence tools. While the LogiXML Info and Ad Hoc tools seem fairly comprehensive, there is still room for improvement on the development end of things.

LogiXML's two BI tools are very similar. While the Info is more geared toward technical power users, the less powerful Ad Hoc option is more business user friendly. This seems to be fairly standard among most companies' BI offerings and LogiXML is toeing that line fairly effectively. That said, most of our training focused on LogiXML Info and that's where the majority of this post will focus.

In general, most of the tools you'd expect in a BI suite are present in LogiXML Info. Tables, graphs, reports, dashboard and the like; none are particularly more difficult to create than the other. The expected battery of connectivity options is also available, allowing data to be pulled from basically any source for use in reporting. Security is much like any other tool with the caveat that it seems there is no good way to apply security to all reports, leaving it to be done individually. During the week none of us really noticed any gaping holes in the capabilities of the product. That being said, no feature especially jumped out as being extraordinary or groundbreaking.

As the company name may lead you to believe, the product is largely XML based. From one standpoint, this is great. It makes the entirely web based deployment easily modifiable, standard company CSS can be implemented fairly easily, there's relatively little installation of applications, and moving reports from one location to another can (though perhaps shouldn't) be as simple as moving a directory structure.

Unfortunately, the major strength of LogiXML's use of XML may also be one of its major drawbacks. I'm making an assumption here, but I think the use of XML on the back end to some extent is forcing the tree view that drives the development environment. Each of us in the class had the same primary complaint: there is no real drag and drop functionality available. While that may seem like a fairly minute thing to key on, it is really the basis of the drawbacks. Every feature in a report must be manually added. For example, in most other BI tools I've used, when you create a table it is assumed that the columns will need labels. Not so with LogiXML Info, each column must have a label added to it which can then be given text. This can make for a fairly crowded tree. Also, there is no real WYSIYG for reports; the developer is required to run the report to see what it actually looks like.

While LogiXML claims on their website to have a "unique Elemental Approach, enabling the development of reports without writing code" I'm not certain it's actually true. To my eye there was very little unique about the level of "code" involved. Like other products I've used, there is a minimum requirement to be able to write SQL and at least a small number of functions to produce a report of any complexity. The solution to most of the speed of development complaints is to use the provided wizards. While this does speed things up, most developers aren't able to include everything necessary for reports from the wizard and are left with a lot of additional clicking to get their jobs done.

Upgrading from one version of LogiXML Info to another is relatively painless, as is reverting back to the previous version. This is fortunate since updates seem to come with some regularity (perhaps twice a year) and can include updates to the development environment. LogiXML allows for multiple versions of the engine to be implemented simultaneously on a single server. This enables users to make use of these upgrades without having to revisit every report to check for compatibility each time upgrades are deployed.

The main strengths of LogiXML's tools are the fact that they're inexpensive and starting development is fairly simple and straightforward. They were added to the Gartner Magic Quadrant primarily because of the low cost. The licensing model is fairly simple, with very few tiers of service. Administration costs are also likely to be minimal due to the fairly simple deployment. While, as I mentioned earlier, there is some pain associated with the convenience of development, getting a new developer to the point that he or she can use the product takes very little time. By the middle of the first day of class each of us had individually reached the conclusion that we understood the basics and the instructor could easily speed up the pace of instruction.

In general, the tool works. It does what it claims to do but has some readily apparent weak points. The pace at which updates come out (they're on version 10.21 since 2000) indicates that they're very keen to improve the product and are willing to stay on the road to being a key player.