WebFocus Getting Smarter

CEO keeps Information Builders aimed at products.

Information Builders Inc., a leading vendor of business intelligence software, is implementing a two-phase rollout of its flagship product, WebFocus 5. Gerald Cohen, who founded the New York company in 1975 and remains its president and CEO, sat down at the Information Builders Summit user conference in Chicago last month to talk with eWEEK Executive Editor Stan Gibson and eWEEK Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist about whats coming in the second phase of WebFocus 5.

In your keynote, you described a two-stage rollout for WebFocus 5. Could you elaborate?

WebFocus 5 is our enterprise business intelligence product, so it has to do everything. The first stage, Release 5.2, included all the new [functionality] that people will need. It has 443 new features. The second part of the release is more architectural. Thats coming in [5.3 in July and in 5.5 in September].

Why not build the architecture before filling out the features?

Fewer people need the architectural enhancements, which are for people who are worried about scalability, reliability and management. Theyre for systems that are up 24 hours per day running complex applications with lots of users that need to manage themselves. The No. 1 problem is complexity. You need more automatic and manageable software, and thats the goal.

Some of the enhancements include clustering. Can you explain how that works in a WebFocus deployment?

You could have five WebFocus report servers on five separate boxes. If youve got a lot of requests coming in, the box serving as the front end gets a request and gives the request to one of the five boxes. It looks like one system, but its five systems on five processors.

Is there a WebFocus 6?

Yes. Its in the thinking stage. There are some architectural changes. Were moving into some areas that customers get into once theyre sophisticated.

Last year we talked about Web services and the importance of Microsoft [Corp.]s .Net to Information Builders. Where do things stand now?

iWay software is fully Web-service-enabled, and lots of the iWay OEMs use the Web services interface.

In WebFocus, our Web services support is in production, but theres a lower rate of adoption. Its not so necessary. iWay is completely .Net-enabled. Its [integrated with] Windows Server 2003. A good part of it is in C#. At Microsofts Tech Ed conference, we will demonstrate the ability of iWay to go anywhere in the organization and access information.

How much of your sales are to new customers?

Many customers of Focus have moved to WebFocus. However, the majority of WebFocus customers are new purchasers—about 75 percent.

A theme for this years summit is return on investment. Are customers still focused on that?

Our salesmen must talk about saving money and a return on investment. But when you listen to what some of our customers are doing, they are talking about competitive advantage. One customer, WESCO International Inc., from Pittsburgh, is a $3.3 billion electrical equipment company. It bought our system to save money, but now the company is using it to put smaller competitors out of business. The value were really providing is the ability for an organization to innovate and differentiate itself from the competition. I think Nicholas Carr [author of a recent Harvard Business Review article] is wrong to say that IT doesnt matter. Hes not looking at the fact that whatever the technology thats available, everyone is using it to innovate. He might be right that the amount of time to get a jump on the competition is shorter. That doesnt mean its not there and people arent looking for it. People can copy faster, but the guy who innovates first still gets a great jump [see related story, Page 31].

How do you see the IT economy?

Im not predicting it will turn up in six months. People have been saying that for three years. Thats ridiculous.

Theres a tremendous amount of new technology, but the times are not right for it to come out. But it will come out. The memory space of 64-bit computing has interesting potential. It needs a killer app, but the only one people can think of is to put an entire database in memory.