Actuate, SAS Look to Broader Reporting

Companies differ in ways to extend analytic power to business user.

Actuate Corp. and SAS Institute Inc. are unveiling technologies to bring query and reporting capabilities to wider groups of users.

The object of both companies is to reach the underserved business user, although they are approaching that problem from different directions. Actuates products have heretofore been the province of more casual, front-line users in an enterprise, while SAS has been more focused on complex predictive analytics.

Actuate, of South San Francisco, Calif., this week will ship Actuate 7, which the company calls its Information Application Platform. The chief new feature in this version is an ad hoc query tool (see screen) that lets business users find answers to ad hoc questions from information pulled from multiple data sources via a dashboard interface.

But developers arent left behind, either, thanks to Actuate 7s new Information Object Designer, a metadata tool that allows IT managers to control access to data sources by mapping data streams to data access and security policies set by the organization.

Actuate 7 also includes an enhanced version of e.Spreadsheet Designer, a product Actuate debuted late last year that allows reports to be saved as Microsoft Corp. Excel documents and published via a Web-based interface.

Corporate Systems Inc. uses Actuates platform to make reports available to customers of its insurance risk management software products. Those customers run mainly scheduled reports, so the Amarillo, Texas, company doesnt expect to make much use of the ad hoc query tool in Actuate 7, according to Cindy Reid, applications manager for risk management systems reporting at Corporate Systems.

But Reid said Information Object Designer would be helpful."Well be able to do complex calls and create objects to put in the report, which should simplify our development," said Reid.

Reid also said e.Spreadsheet Designer was a plus because the product made it easier to put data into Excel for manipulation.

Actuate plans to further extend Version 7 with support for multidimensional analysis and reporting, likely by the fourth quarter, officials said.

Meanwhile, SAS this week will unveil new technology for enterprise reporting at its SAS Users Group International conference in Seattle. The product will be part of the Cary, N.C., analytic software developers SAS 9.1 release. While SAS already offers the Enterprise Reporter product, the updated version of the platform is expected to have a much cleaner interface that will make query and reporting more accessible to business users, as opposed to the power users SAS software typically caters to.

SAS is expected to compete head-on with vendors such as Business Objects SA, Cognos Inc. and MicroStrategy Inc. with the new software. Many SAS customers use those products now as the reporting front end to SAS analytics.

Mark Smith, CEO at Ventana Research, in Belmont, Calif., was skeptical, however, about how much traction SAS could have in the enterprise reporting space. "I am not sure that even SAS, who has not had hardly any impact in this area of the market, can make a dent in their first release, let alone they have to get the sales and marketing on the right track," Smith said. "This is a much different sale than Base SAS or Enterprise Miner, where they make most of their revenue."