Decisions Blog

Archive for November, 2009

Using External data with Talis Decisions

For most people, the main use of Talis Decisions is to extract and display data from Talis Alto. Talis Alto does not however contain data on everything that is known about a borrower or an item. In an earlier post for example I explained how reports could be produced combining PC booking data with Talis Alto data to produce a more complete picture of activity in the library.

The same principle can be used to extrapolate from data that Talis Alto does hold to infer those that it does not. Here for example is a chart that combines borrower postcode data with a postcode-to-electoral-ward lookup table to derive the number of borrowers by electoral ward:

Ward density

This was produced by combining a query on postcode with a sample of lookup data provided by Map-Logic (the base data are © Crown Copyright).

The report was produced in Desktop Intelligence. The lookup data were imported from a spreadsheet:

WardLook up data

(In this example the borrower data were extracted using Freehand SQL rather than a Universe query: I can supply more details on request to anyone interested)

Merging queries on Talis Decisions

TDN1 One thing that users often mention in the context of Talis Decisions is combining data from multiple sources (such as two different Universe queries).

It is worth being aware that there is an article on the Talis Developer Network on this subject. If you are a Talis user, but not a member of TDN, go to and request an account:


Once you have received your account details, go back to the same URL and log in with your new credentials.

You will find a number of useful resources here. The article on synchronising queries is in the Library Systems Articles:







A new way of doing things?

BusinessObjects (the company that builds the engine behind Talis Decisions) have recently come out with an extension to their product set which appears to offer a step change in the accessibility of management information for certain kinds of enquiry.

What it looks like

Suppose that you have had a complaint from a borrower that the stock at their nearest site all seems very old compared with the stock at the main library and you are trying to establish the facts.

You are using the new tool populated with library data. When you first log on you are presented with a search screen not unlike Google or Prism 3. You type in item creation and hit Search:

BO Explorer Search The software returns matching  “Information Spaces” ranked by relevance. Note the ranking score on the left. You decide that the first one looks most promising so you click on it. This is what you see by default:

BO Explorer Default

Forget the top panel for a moment; look at the bottom one. One click from a Google-style search and you are half way to your answer. By default it has given you the number of items at each branch – not exactly what you want, but getting there.

Note (and this is where the real power comes in), the graph at the bottom isn’t just a picture. It changes on the fly as you select different alternatives. The graph at the moment shows total items by home site. You want it by year (of creation), so you select that option in the drop-down:

BO Explorer X-Axis selection

The graph refreshes with the new data in less time than it takes to read this sentence

Lets suppose that the two sites that we are comparing are the Central Library and Maltby Library (the sample data set in this example is from a public library but the same principle would apply in an academic library). You click on Central Library in the top part of the window and also select the sort order you want (decreasing year) in the summary table on the right:

BO Explorer Central Library

Change the chart type if you wish (e.g. to a pie chart), export it, and then click on Maltby Library, re-export and you have your evidence in a form that you can paste into a letter or post on a website.

Note what has happened here. In four or five steps you have got the information that you need. No one has had to write a query or understand the database. The formatting of the report has been largely automatic. Above all it has been immediate. There is no sitting around waiting for reports to refresh.

What might it be good for?

Experience would be the final arbiter, but it looks like this tool is ideal at digging down into data, Here is an example showing the numbers of adult and child fiction items at Maltby library in any state other than In Stock (look at the selections at the top):

BO Explorer type status

It seems probable that this would be very useful in three kinds of situation:

  1. There is some unexpected or anomalous figures in routine reporting and you are trying to establish why.
  2. You are doing some what-if planning, perhaps (for example) around site closures, opening hours or supplier performance.
  3. There has been a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for something not reported routinely (e.g. number of cancelled ILLs at someone’s local site).

What it probably isn’t good for

The tool is clearly oriented for ad hoc, interactive use. There are several things that would probably still be better done in Desktop Intelligence or Web Intelligence. In particular it is probably not ideal for:

  1. Long lists used for operational tasks (e.g. items that haven’t been issued for a while and are therefore candidates for withdrawal)
  2. Routine reports that are scheduled to run at particular times and/or are distributed automatically to a number of recipients.

Under the bonnet

The technology is an example of in memory analytics. “Information Spaces” based on new or existing Universes are created as part of the tool set-up and refresh automatically. This creates an index file. When the end-user clicks on an information space, the index file is loaded into memory and can thereafter be used interactively. The same principle is used in tools like Qlikview

What do you think?

On the face of it, it might be possible to integrate this into Talis Decisions. We would have lots to do (for example to check that it wouldn’t overstretch the hardware that most users have), and we are right at the start of the process. It would however be very interesting to know whether you would judge something like this to be potentially useful.

Please can you let us know (by adding a comment) whether in your opinion, this kind of capability might be:

  1. Extremely useful
  2. Fairly useful
  3. Possibly  useful
  4. Not something you would use much
  5. A fun toy but hard to justify
  6. Irrelevant
  7. {Anything else that you would like to say}

This is just a rough initial straw poll. We shan’t hold anyone to their opinion(!)