Introduction to BIRT

Introduction

I recently attended the Maximo UK and Ireland User Group meeting at IBM’s fabulous Bedfont Lakes facility where we were treated to a demonstration of Actuate’s new BIRT reporting capability.

Although rather hampered in terms of performance by the virtual PC on which the demonstration was running the software and technology looked rather appealing. The interactive “flash” based reporting seemed to suggest that the long promised and tantalising possibility of “easy to create” dashboard style reports, over which the end user has an unparalleled degree of control may finally be a reality.

Just to set this in context, I have been a software developer for over 30 years, currently working in the field of interfacing Maximo with financial systems, it is rare that a new technology spikes my interest and imagination. So when I say that I spent a whole Saturday (much the chagrin of Mrs B) downloading, installing and attempting to understand what BIRT was all about, you will realise that this is indeed something worthy of note.

Working for a software vendor and yet still being granted the opportunity of attending the user group meeting I thought I would give something back by publishing the findings of my weekend’s toil so that other members of the group may benefit.

What is BIRT?

Initially I had no idea what BIRT was or what Actuate had to do with it, but somewhere along the line the magical words “open source” had been mentioned and I suspect that this may have had something to do with my new found enthusiasm for the product. So a bit of Googling later I discovered that BIRT (Business Intelligence Reporting Tools) was actually a freely available, open database reporting technology, that consisted of two major components, the report designer and the report server – which when combined allowed the user to create graphically rich reports that can be deployed from a central web server into a standard internet browser.

Roughly translated this means that pretty much anyone, with a reasonable working knowledge of the database against which they want to report can write reports that contain lists and graphs and that can allow the user to filter the data by any columns that the report author allows. Furthermore, these reports can be hosted on a central server in an organisations intranet or even on a publically available web server and viewed by anyone

who had a copy of Internet Explorer handy on their PC. I suspect that other browsers are supported although I didn’t try that yet!

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What do you need?

At first I discovered that in order to create a BIRT report one required a copy of something called Eclipse. This turned out to be a freely available, open source Integrated Development Environment (IDE) into which one installs the BIRT designer components. So I made my first goal to install a copy of Eclipse with these components installed.

Google soon pointed me in the right direction to obtain the relevant software and in no time I was able to follow a tutorial on how to build my first BIRT report.

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