More Scalable Tool Slips BI into Enterprise Front Line

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-10-18

More Scalable Tool Slips BI into Enterprise Front Line

Information Builders Inc. last week deepened its commitment to do what just about all BI vendors are now doing: getting business intelligence out to the masses.

To do that, the New York company put out an update to its WebFocus software that ties in tighter with Microsoft Corp.s Office and Excel, scales better, and integrates with customers existing security instead of coming with its own security infrastructure to add to IT departments workload.

The emphasis on integrating with Office and Excel means that the software is thereby usable by people in the tools with which theyre familiar, said Kevin Quinn, vice president of product marketing. "People using these types of systems are not classic users of [BI tools]," he said . "Customer support reps dont run and analyze data. They sit at terminals. If they have a new phone call they need to service, what comes up on their screen is a BI report. They didnt know about it and didnt ask for it—its just a part of what theyre doing. They dont have to go out of their way to request an analysis."

Quinn said that WebFocus 5.3s enhanced scalability is pivotal when it comes to getting strategic information out of the hands of managers and into the hands of people who man the front lines of an enterprises operations. "BI in the past was reserved for a few managers in the back office," Quinn said. "Now companies are starting to recognize [the importance of] pushing information out to people at an operational level, that every employee needs to make decisions on a daily level."

The update features improved scalability in the Java-based middle tier of the server, which now can perform up to 80 percent better than the previous version, he said.

Such scalability is a big deal to First Rate Investment Systems, which has been using the updates beta version. John Watkins is the technology manager for the Arlington, Texas, company, which is the developer and provider of portfolio analysis and performance measurement software for financial services companies.

Watkins said that WebFocus scalability, which was already good in the previous version, enables First Rates clients to handle analysis on thousands of portfolios without straining their databases. "You can take a lot of workload off SQL Server and spread it out to these [Information Builder iWay servers]," he said. "We can have [the iWay servers] chug away at a small result set, and [we dont] have to worry about record locking. You have a small result set local, and [the iWay servers] can chug away fast with a small database, with just 300 accounts in it. And it frees SQL Server up for people to be doing other [projects]."

Tighter integration with Excel spreadsheets is another way to get more end users up and running with BI, Quinn said. "HTML, Excel or PDFs—thats what everybodys experienced with," he said. "We provide information in a tool customers or users already feel comfortable with."

Next Page: Update integrates with resident security systems.

More Scalable Tool Slips BI into Enterprise Front Line - Page 2

Integration with security systems is another new feature in WebFocus 5.3. The software allows users to access information from anywhere through a browser using pre-existing single sign-on security. It then integrates with IBM/Tivoli Access Manager; Netegrity Inc.s SiteMinder; RSA Security Inc.s ClearTrust; and a new security plug-in that provides built-in support for Active Directory, LDAP, WebFocus Reporting Server and relational database systems.

CA is buying Netegrity for $430 million. Read more here.

But the biggest bonus of the update in Watkins mind is support for SVG (scalable vector graphics). These are preferable to GIF or JPEG images, since they scale without jagged lines and thus can be viewed on screens in boardrooms, printed in large format or otherwise distributed. "Our clients have been asking for [the] new vector graphics," Watkins said. "A lot of our reports have tags and graphs on the same page. They wanted boardroom-quality printouts."

Keith Gile, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Westport, Conn., said that many of the research firms clients are heading toward consolidation of BI platforms, the end goal being one BI system that can address strategic performance, tactical support and operational performance. Toward that end, scalability and embeddability into applications are both key, he said.

"My take is that Information Builders has worked to develop a product that is scalable and embeddable within applications, rather than demanding that there be a separate environment altogether where you did your analysis that was disparate from the apps you run your business on," he said. "When you change the dynamics from originally rolling [a BI system] out to 2 percent of your headcount to then go to 30 percent, scalability comes to the No. 1 or No. 2 thing to think about. You need access to data, scalability and security."

Gile said Information Builders isnt seen as best of breed in either analytic or enterprise reporting, but the company is a "strong hybrid" of the two and gives WebFocus 5.3 high marks for scalability, calling it "truly scalable." Gile also parceled out kudos for the updates security integration.

"They can build interestingly complex analytic reports and deploy to a large enterprise audience of customers," he said.

WebFocus 5.3 is available immediately.

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