Monday, September 29, 2008

Summit 2008

Have you ever wondered how other WebFOCUS clients are using their BI software?

Now you can see BI applications that were recently showcased at Information Builders' 2008 Summit annual users group in Nashville, Tennessee, by Greater Cincinnati organizations such as Henny Penny, Nationwide Insurance, TriHealth, and The Hillman Group, and Omnicare. Just click on the links in the session titles below to download the associated Powerpoint presentation.

If you would like to discuss how your company can utilize WebFOCUS to its fullest, just let me know.

Henny Penny Provides Enterprise BI to a Global Operation
Doug Lautzenheiser, Partner Intelligence
Don Garland, Henny Penny Corporation

The next time you eat french fries at the quick-service restaurant or get rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, think of Henny Penny, the Ohio-based manufacturer that probably supplied the equipment for your meal. See how this 50-year old privately-held company uses Information Builders products to support their global operations across the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Asia, and communicate with distributors in over a hundred countries. Henny Penny will describe how WebFOCUS enables online access and automated information delivery, as well as how iWay Software automatically processes e-mailed orders. You will hear how a WebFOCUS dashboard provides employees and external partners around the world with real-time access to ERP data. Henny Penny's environment consists of Windows and iSeries platforms, with JDEdwards ERP.

This Time It's Personal: BI's Influence on 50,000 Students
William Cooper, Nationwide

Learn how WebFOCUS is influencing 50,000 students in the Columbus City School District. WebFOCUS business intelligence helped develop a series of cascading structures as well as a dashboard with drill-downs to the building, grade, subject, student, and curriculum levels, which assists with formative intervention to enhance academic achievement.
Enterprise Reporting Solution With MRE Dashboard, Metadata-Driven SROs and ReportCaster
Mufaddal Frosh, TriHealth
Deborah Heile, TriHealth

The TriHealth Data Warehouse team has developed a platform to deliver parameter-driven standard reports, custom reports for specific users, ad hoc functionality for analysts, and event-driven reports using BID, metadata-driven reporting objects and ReportCaster.
BI in the Real World
Kirk Townsley, The Hillman Group
Al Kolb, The Hillman Group

Hillman Group will demonstrate how they manage operational and strategic objectives using WebFOCUS.
Dynamically Loop Through Database Connections With DataMigrator
Lori Pieper, Information Builders
Kathy Getz, Omnicare

Omnicare has the same set of tables in many different databases. The table names and column names are the same, but the database is different. Learn how we wrote one data flow and looped through 70 databases, versus writing a data flow for each database. We'll also touch on how to send parameters to the data flow so the selection criteria is also specific to the database to which we are connecting.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Online TechSupport

As a WebFOCUS customer, you have the entire Information Builders library at your fingertips for free. You need only register on their TechSupport website.

If you have not yet done that, go to the New Users page and click on their “Sign Up!” button at the top left corner. To validate yourself as a customer, you need to enter your IB site code (an assigned value like xxxx.01). Fill out the rest of the form and give yourself a unique userid --you are ready to go!

Once logged in, check out the “Publications” link at the top middle of the screen. Two important options on that menu are “Search for Documentation” and “Search for Topics”. From the documentation option, you can find all of the WebFOCUS manuals in PDF format, available for free downloading. It you prefer, you can purchase hardcopy versions. If you do not know what manual you need, you can use the “Search for Topics” screen to do keyword searches for the right material.

While at the TechSupport site, you may also want to look over some of the other material, such as IB’s education offerings or information on how other clients are using WebFOCUS (be sure to read In the News on a regular basis, as well).

It is important to update your Site Profile so that IB has details on your WebFOCUS architecture. The IB Help Desk can then review this information when researching any open cases that you submit, which will hopefully speed up the process.

If you have any questions, just let me know.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Managed Reporting Environment's Repository

By default, the WebFOCUS Managed Reporting Environment (MRE) uses a file-based repository system to keep track of users, security groups, and reporting domains. WebFOCUS stores this information in simple HTML control files in the "basedir" of your WebFOCUS Client environment (typically stored on the web tier):
  • MRREPOS.HTM --Points to the user, the role, and individual domain control files
  • USER.HTM -- Contains user information and the groups to which they belong
  • ROLE.HTM -- Contains users and the roles they can perform within MRE
  • Username.HTM -- MRE users have their own control file, with pointers to the user directory, reports, deferred reports and output, and report domains

Under the basedir directory are the individual domain folders, with each folder containing its own domain control file:
  • Domainname.HTM -- Points to individual domain folders (standard report groups, reporting objects, other files, help files, and run links) and provides a listing of each folder's contents.
While adequate for many uses, there are some problems with a repository infrastructure that utilizes simple text files.

First, the files are prone to corruption should the system encounter an issue such as a full hard drive or a power outage. For example, if an individual domain control file is corrupted, it will appear to the MRE user that all of the contents of that domain have disappeared. In reality, WebFOCUS is just unable to present that information to the user as it has lost the association between the domain and its contents. Likewise, if the main repository control file is damaged, the entire MRE environment can become unavailable as the various programs are now unable to access necessary information. The Java App Server might begin to throw null pointer exceptions and fail as it tries to access the files. When using the file-based repository, therefore, it is important to establish a good backup and restore process.

A second problem with the file-based repository is that it can become slow when a large number of MRE users are in the system. Because each MRE user performs file I/Os on the same three files in the basedir and shares the domain file with other domain users, this file access can become a bottleneck for large user environments.

Also, special characters stored in the files can violate the HTML rules and make the file unreadable. For example, if you add a userid with special characters (such as a dash), this can corrupt the file and make it so that no users can log into MRE.

Understanding these issues, Information Builders offers an alternative. Instead of using the file system for storing the information, MRE can be configured to access a relational database such as DB2, SQL Server, Oracle, Informix, Sybase, or MySQL (a good practice would be to use the same database as that for the Report Caster repository). The MRE user administration interface is used regardless of your choice of internal files or external database repositories.

An external RDBMS repository has several advantages in that it provides protection against file corruption, should perform faster and scale better than a file-based system, and is probably already part of a formal backup and recovery process. The change to the underlying repository is transparent to the MRE administrator(s).

Of course, you have security options other than just picking between internal file-based and external database repositories. These are simply two out-of-the-box features available for easily managing the user authentication (userids and passwords) and entitlement (their roles and security groups) should you not have other security packages in place or choose not to take advantage of them.

While the MRE file-based repository might meet your needs today, you should consider the alternatives as you roll out more WebFOCUS applications.

2013 note: Everything changes with WebFOCUS 8. With that new architecture, Information Builders has completely revamped the MRE repository into a robust relational content repository. If you need information about this new structure, contact me. 

About Me

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I am a project-based software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.