Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Convert Legacy FOCUS Batch Jobs to WebFOCUS

One of the major challenges in converting legacy FOCUS on the mainframe is the number of batch jobs written with JCL.  Now, the challenges of manually analyzing and changing these jobs have been overcome.

Partner Intelligence has enhanced its BI Consolidator software for mainframe JCL.  For analysis and a conversion roadmap, the application can automatically scan, analyze, and inventory the instructions contained in the job stream.  After that, the BI Consolidator can automatically create new versions of the JCL: a legacy "test" version along with a new WebFOCUS "test" version for parallel testing, plus  a new WebFOCUS version for moving into production.

The BI Consolidator currently offers two options for converting mainframe jobs with FOCUS steps.  First, we can easily convert MVS FOCUS to Unix System Services WebFOCUS.  You eliminate your legacy text-based FOCUS license and usage, move to the web version, yet still have mainframe data access.  Your current FOCUS batch jobs continue to work, just using new web technology under the covers.  If you want, you can enhance the batch job outputs to take advantage of new WebFOCUS features, or simply leave everything running as-is.

A second BI Consolidator option is to automatically convert the JCL to replace MVS FOCUS processes with those running on a zLinux partition using TCP remote calls.  This technique allows you to offload mainframe processing while keeping your legacy batch job streams.  This is especially important if you have integrated other mainframe technologies into the FOCUS batch stream (e.g., COBOL steps, IMS batch access, TSO batch access, IDCAMS, external sorts, and so forth).

The BI Consolidator also provides documentation features that generate new job listings with special highlighting as well as test plan spreadsheets.  These help guide and simplify the parallel testing work.

Partner Intelligence's BI Consolidator application eliminates all of the manual coding typically involved with converting mainframe JCL with FOCUS steps to run with WebFOCUS.  It does this with zero defects and at a rate of about 20 jobs per second.  Any alternative manual approach is a waste of your company's money as well as unnecessary risk.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact me.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

2010 Growth for Partner Intelligence

In 2010, Partner Intelligence will double its consulting staff!

We are seeking experienced Business Intelligence professionals (in particular, with WebFOCUS skills) primarily in the Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana geography. We need to expand our permanent staff with quality individuals seeking long-term careers in BI software consulting services.

After just a few years, Partner Intelligence has consulting staff in major cities of Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Dallas (these are full-time employees, not temporary subcontractors). In 2009, Information Builders named Partner Intelligence their preferred national vendor for BI conversion services, due to our methodologies and award-winning automated software tools.

To sustain our growth, Partner Intelligence has a direct sales and marketing staff. Our national recruiting team searches for quality WebFOCUS professionals across the country. We have a strategic advisor, executive management team, and the typical administrative groups. Our executive management team have relationships with most of the area's major firms. We are now in our second office space and have decided in 2010 to purchase a new, larger location. Partner Intelligence's growth is supported financially by a debt-free parent organization that ranked second as the fastest-growing privately-held company in Cincinnati.

I am proud of Partner Intelligence’s success and am working hard to continue that into the future. Would you like to be part of this exciting opportunity?

If so, let's discuss how you could join Partner Intelligence. Contact me at DLautzenheiser at my PIforBI e-mail address.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Converting NOMAD 4GL to WebFOCUS

If your organization still uses the NOMAD 4GL, Kencura Systems have a cost-effective option for modernizing your applications and retiring NOMAD.  With our software, we can leverage your legacy investments by automatically translating much of your logic into WebFOCUS. 

Back in the 1980s, the competing 4GL products were NOMAD, RAMIS, and FOCUS.  Today, only the FOCUS 4GL is still owned by its original developers.  Companies still relying upon NOMAD and RAMIS are few and far between (see my 2008 blog entry). 

Since releasing the next-generation web version of FOCUS around 1995, Information Builders and their customers have done extremely well with the new architecture.  Thousands of well-known organizations use WebFOCUS: NASA, American Express, JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor Company, Nationwide Insurance, FedEx, Target Stores, Sony, and JCPenney, just to name a few.

If you still have NOMAD, now is the time to consider moving to modern technologies.  Here is a list of how the BI Modernization application converts specific NOMAD features into a WebFOCUS equivalent:

• Report verb (LIST) and extract file verb (CREATE)

• Multiple verb requests in a single program file

• Original program comments carried forward into generated WebFOCUS code

• Calculations of virtual columns (DEFINE)


• Aggregation functions (CNT, SUM, UNIQUE, MAX, MIN, AVG, FIRST, LAST, NUMBER)

• Distinct Count

• Page headings and footings (TITLE and FOOTING)

• Report footings (SUMMARY)

• Report body (columns)

• Report sorting (BY column) and subtotal break (SUBTOTAL FOR)

• Sort control breaks (BYHEAD and BYFOOT)

• Matrix report sorting (ACROSS column) and row-total (ROWTOT)

• Descending sort option (DESC)

• Report options (NEWPAGE, FOLD, SKIP, OVER)

• Report grand totals (TOTAL ALL)

• Body and sort column invisible option (NOPRINT)

• Column titles (HEADING)

• Column reformatting (AS format)

• Selection criteria (WHERE, SELECT)

• Column spot markers in text (COLUMN)

• Symbolic variable setting (SET &variable) on sort columns

• Symbolic variables used in text (&variable)

• Symbolic substitution using the ‘?(&variable)’ syntax after pre-scan and prior to execution

• Prompting of symbolic variables and formatting (DECLARE AS) *exception is DATE format

• FOR WORKSHEET and LOTUS123 extract file options

• ON filename option

• Extract file (CREATE) subsets with MATCHING (EXTRACT, SUBSET, MERGE, REJECT)

• Support for NOT IN phrases

• Support for some system variable (&NOTAVAILABLE, &NOVALUE)

• Equivalency tests with &NOTAVAILABLE converted to MISSING tests

• Support for DUP option to force sort values not to be suppressed (WebFOCUS BYDISPLAY)

• Procedural scripting labels and unconditional GOTO statements


• HEADING option on DEFINEd columns (ignored)

• NAMED option on columns (WebFOCUS “AS” and ASNAMES setting)

• SYSTEM ALLOC and FREE commands (translated to TSO commands – may need to translate for USS)

• CALL routines translated to EXEC (see translation notes)

• TEST and LIMIT statements are translated to RECORDLIMIT

To convert legacy BI products, Kencura Systems employ our "DAPPER" approach, proceeding through the following phases:
D - Discover
A - Analyze
P - Perform Pilot Conversion
P - Plan for Full Conversion
E - Execute the Plan in a phased approach
R - Retire the legacy BI product
One of our first steps in a BI conversion is to get an accurate inventory of the existing legacy environment.  Using our automated discovery and inventory application, we can quickly provide you with details for scoping a conversion effort.  Contact us for more information.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Running WebFOCUS BI Applications on the iPhone

Have you ever considered accessing your WebFOCUS BI applications from your phone?  You can if you own the Apple iPhone.  For more information, see my general BI blog or contact me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Information Builders' Summit 2010

Information Builders has announced details for Summit 2010, their premier annual event bringing together users of their WebFOCUS Business Intelligence product, iWay Software enterprise integration product, and FOCUS 4GL.

For the past two years, Information Builders has hosted the conference at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. This year, the venue switches to another Gaylord location: the Palms Resort in Kissimmee, Florida.  The event runs from Saturday, June 5th, through Wednesday, June 9th.

Watch the IBI Summit 2010 webpage for more information as it becomes available.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Who is Partner Intelligence?

Partner Intelligence provides technical consulting services to organizations using (or considering) the WebFOCUS Enterprise Business Intelligence software product. We offer BI strategic advice, application development, and automated conversion services.

From our corporate headquarters in Cincinnati, we serve North America and have a focus on major Midwest cities such as Columbus, Indianapolis, and Louisville.

WebFOCUS customers come to Partner Intelligence for results they are not currently getting on their own. Clients engage us when they:
  • Implement Business Intelligence and need to establish the proper foundation for success
  • Build new BI applications and need expertise, experience, and ideas
  • Replace legacy BI applications and need methodologies and tools for efficient removal
  • Need to deal with stalled or failed BI initiatives
  • Need onsite BI mentors or trainers to increase their staff capabilities

We provide clients with deep technical expertise in WebFOCUS for BI application development. Our consultants use methodologies, templates, and tools to efficiently complete project-based engagements.

As a long-term local partner, we are committed to delivering success at a fair value.  When you need WebFOCUS services, contact Partner Intelligence.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

WebFOCUS BI Professionals in Demand

I'm looking for your help.

For several years now, Partner Intelligence has been building the solid foundation of a premiere Business Intelligence consulting practice. In 2008, our parent company was ranked the 2nd fastest growing privately held company in Cincinnati. We offer local clients affordable and personalized professional services: strategic advice, BI application development, and automated tools.

We specialize in the WebFOCUS enterprise BI product and are a formal partner with the vendor, Information Builders. Thanks to our good relationship with IBI, they named us their preferred provider for converting legacy BI reporting tools into WebFOCUS.

We have also established solid relationships with well-known clients. We are implementing enterprise BI solutions that transform how these companies run their businesses.

Our growth is being limited - we are facing a challenge of finding high-quality professionals who specialize in the WebFOCUS product. If you (or somebody you know) have the experience, skills, and attitude to be one of the best BI consultants in the area, we need to talk.

Please contact me at DLau....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

IBM Acquires SPSS

Today, IBM acquired SPSS. For more information, see my general BI blog.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Trend in BI Software Jobs

If you are interested in the trend in BI Software jobs, please see my general BI Blog.

While WebFOCUS jobs remain just a small percentage of the total positions available (only about 1/2 of a percent of all BI openings posted on the Monster job board), there has been an increase from the beginning of 2009 to today. That is positive considering that some BI tools such as Crystal Reports saw a 35% decline in jobs during that same period.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summit 2009 | Presentation Copies

With the 2009 event over, Information Builders will soon post copies of the presentations on their website. For those of you who could not be at my sessions and cannot wait to get the material, I made a private copy available on my site.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summit 2009 - Day Five

The last day of Summit 2009 is still going on in Nashville but I have returned to Cincinnati. Today is a half-day event with lots of educational sessions and hands-on labs. The always-popular Expert Room is still open until noon.

I hope that everybody who attended found the same type of value that I did. If you could not attend, please see the archived presentations that Information Builders will soon post to their website.

Summit 2009 - Day Four

The fourth day of Information Builders' Summit 2009 was packed with great presentations.

I particularly enjoyed Nationwide Insurance's presentation on how their Office of Corporate Citizenship worked with an urban school system to build an informational portal designed to improve student proficiency. Information Builders had earlier awarded Nationwide an award of distinction for their use of Business Intelligence software for humanitarian purposes.

Based on federal and state guidelines, Nationwide consolidated 40 Excel worksheets into a single color-coded scorecard available in a WebFOCUS portal. From the scorecard, educational users can drill-down from a city summary to the individual student. Longitudinal trends and comparisons quickly identify problem areas. Collaborative features allow school officials to share intervention strategies among their peers.

I will blog more about it in the future, but here is something that every school in the United States should have. While Nationwide would not take credit, this city increased their high school graduation rates from below half to three quarters (the continued improvement goal is 90% of all city students should successfully complete high school).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Summit 2009 - Day Three | Another Presentation

My second presentation on automating BI application development was well attended and the audience had great questions.

Legacy BI applications are a major problem. One client told me that his company struggles with business systems written in a legacy 4GL product. Their expert retires soon and there is probably not an experienced replacement in the entire town. Even if they find another 4GL developer somewhere else, that person is probably ready to move to a winter retirement village anyway.

It is just not feasible anymore for companies to use the legacy tools for which there is no labor force or training available. Developed for host platforms in the days before the Internet, these products no longer meet the needs of competitive firms.

In addition to eliminating legacy tools, many people expressed the need to replace BI products that no longer meet their needs and which have uncertain futures, such as Business Objects, Crystal Reports, and Actuate.

Many individuals in the audience were excited to hear there may be a solution to their problem.

Summit 2009 - Day Three | BI Consolidations

I just completed the first of several presentation at Summit 2009.

When I saw the agenda, I marveled at my good fortune to get the 7:45AM speaker's slot the morning following the evening cocktail receptions (thanks, IBI!). That meant a really committed audience who would have to give up sleeping and eating breakfast to see my presentation. But BI consolidation is a great topic regardless of the time of day.

I talked about automated tools and methodologies to convert legacy BI report writers into modern, web-based products. Boris Evelson had a great term yesterday for one characteristic of the next-generation of BI products: "built-in expertise."

That is what the Partner Intelligence tools have: we put our expertise to convert legacy BI applications directly into the application. My next presentation is within an hour.

6/12 update: Information Builders posted the presentation to their website:

The Latest in BI Consolidation
Doug Lautzenheiser, Partner Intelligence
Tuesday 7:45AM - 8:15AM

Now is the time to do more with less. Smart companies are saving money and improving productivity by reducing the number of their supported reporting tools. Doug Lautzenheiser will explain the methodologies and tools his clients have used to overcome the challenges of performing enterprise BI consolidations.
Download presentation

Monday, June 8, 2009

Summit 2009 - Day Two | Comedy

Information Builders started its plenary session with laughter. Corporate comedian Greg Schwem opened the event by showing the absurdity of software vendor marketing, technical jargon, and job postings (in a light-hearted way, of course). See Greg's website.

Summit 2009 - Day Two | Boris Evelson

Boris Evelson, Principal Analyst for Forrester Research, spoke today at the Information Builders' Summit 2009 in Nashville on the next-generation of Business Intelligence. Boris' studies show a continued uptick in BI software interest. In fact, out of the over 1000 IT decision makers surveyed, none were decreasing or stopping their BI initiatives. Over a quarter of the individuals expressed interest in BI and almost one-third indicated a "greenfield" where BI was not yet implemented within the organization.

Boris said that the number one question that people ask him is how to prove BI ROI. Boris admitted that few people know how to do BI and that calculating returns is difficult. He stressed that a big mistake is starting with technology. Instead, Boris recommended some best practices for addressing BI applications which focused on executive sponsorship, user types and their unique requirements, using industry-standard models if possible, and assessing current environment. Boris also recommended bringing in external expertise to up the odds of your BI initiative.

When discussing BI ROI, Boris covered general topics such as automating manual processes, consolidating, upgrading, and creating advanced BI usages. At the bottom of his list was enterprise BI solutions, whose scopes can be too large to justify a business case for moving forward.

While the next-generation BI solution may be a fairy tale today, Boris feels we are getting closer to reality. For next-gen BI, Boris lists 4 attributes: automated, pervasive, unified, and limitless. For more information, see the Forrester Research blog.

Summit 2009 - Day Two | Awards

During Information Builders' general session, awards were given to customers who had created distinctive WebFOCUS BI applications. The winners were:
  • Ford Motor Company, for the Best Enterprise BI
  • Columbus Ohio Public Schools and Nationwide Insurance, for Most Humanitarian
  • US TRANSCOM, for Best Use of BI in the Public Sector
  • New York Public Library, for Best Use of BI
  • TNT, for the the Best Use of iWay Software

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Summit 2009 - Day One

The first night of Information Builders' Summit 2009 went well. Both the Nashville weather and the Gaylord Opryland Hotel are beautiful. From Cincinnati, Nashville was an easy 5-hour drive.

At 7PM, we opened a Delta Ballroom for a general welcome reception to meet and greet each other. Information Builders served dinner and offered an open bar with live entertainment. We wrapped up everything at 10PM but I think the guests would have stayed longer if the hotel staff hadn't stuck to the agreed-upon schedule.

It was great to see the familiar Information Builders faces from the NYC corporate and field sales offices. I talked to quite a few of my former IBI colleagues.

Client attendance seemed light and I noticed fewer international guests, but a bigger crowd may show up tomorrow morning for the General Session. At the Partner Intelligence booth, I talked with a variety of Midwesterners but the West Coast and southern USA were also represented. A few individuals from Sweden even stopped by.

WebFOCUS new-name sales must be good. I talked to many first-time attendees who were there to learn how to take advantage of their new enterprise BI product. A common theme I heard was that they had purchased WebFOCUS because of its ability to develop highly dynamic, parameterized web reporting applications.

Monday is a full day of sessions and evening Cocktail Receptions. I will work the vendor booth at lunch and dinner, so please stop by if you are attending.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Preparing for the WebFOCUS Summit 2009

Partner Intelligence is thrilled to sponsor Information Builders' Summit 2009 in Nashville. My associates Roger Jeter and Ben Dolan will attend for the first time. During the week, we present twice and will roll out exciting news about our vendor partnership as well as our new national recruiting offering for WebFOCUS professionals.

We arrive at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel on Sunday, the 7th of June, to setup in time for the 7PM Welcome Reception in the Delta Ballroom C. When you come for dinner, be sure to stop by Partner Intelligence booth, which is near the ballroom entrance.

We are bringing along our putting green and will give away a TaylorMade putter at the last vendor session. You only have to sink one of three putts to be entered in the drawing (practice before you come to Nashville!).

Along with the Monday through Thursday Summit sessions, be sure to take advantage of special events. Each Information Builders sales region will host a get-together for clients and partners and Partner Intelligence will be at the Central Region Customer Cocktail Reception at the Relache Outdoor Pool from 7PM to 8PM. This is convenient for those of you in the Midwest who attended in 2008, as we are in the exact same location this year.

Once again, Information Builders selected the Wild Horse Saloon as the Tuesday night off-site event. Shuttles being leaving at 7:30PM from the Delta Portico. Dinner will be served and the event lasts from 8PM to 11PM (or until you tire of Boot Scootin' Boogie).

I have planned several face-to-face meetings with individuals interested in learning more about Partner Intelligence offerings, including our automated Business Intelligence consolidation tools where we can simplify the replacement of your legacy BI products (such as NOMAD, FOCUS, Oracle Portal, and QMF/SQL). Send me an e-mail if you would also like to schedule some time together.
Via this blog, I plan to keep everybody informed of happenings at Summit 2009.

Monday, May 18, 2009

IBI + PI = Value 2 U

I am proud to announce that Bob Gabriel, vice president of Information Builders' Professional Services organization, has asked Partner Intelligence to be its official BI conversion partner.

We work with Information Builders to help organizations convert legacy BI tools into the enterprise WebFOCUS product using our unique automated BI consolidation methodologies and software. While our primary focus will be on FOCUS-to-WebFOCUS conversions, we will also replace other legacy products (e.g., 4GLs such as NOMAD and RAMIS).

I am honored to be selected by the software vendor of WebFOCUS as their preferred supplier of conversion services.

More information on this partnership will be made available at Information Builders' Summit 2009 being held in Nashville, TN, in June.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2009 Summit in Nashville

Information Builders' annual Summit User Conference is almost here!

With last year's success, IB will once again hold their premier customer event at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville. Summit 2009 begins on Sunday, June 7th, and goes through Thursday, June 11th. I started going a dozen years ago, when the event was called FUSE. Here's what I like about it.

First, Summit provides a unique opportunity to meet individuals from WebFOCUS clients from around the world. If you are interested in networking, I can coordinate personal get-togethers. Let me know your interest, and I will try to connect you with the right persons.

In addition to networking, Summit is the place to increase your WebFOCUS knowledge -- listen to excellent speakers, attend workshops, and talk one-on-one with product managers and technical gurus. If you need a difficult problem solved, visit the Expert Room where top-quality representatives will dig in to figure out the issue.

Last but not least, the Summit schedule is jam-packed with presentations from industry analysts, vendor product gurus, and customers. Hear what the top analysts say about business intelligence and see how other companies use WebFOCUS.

At last year's Summit, Don Garland and I co-presented on Henny Penny's global BI. This time, Dan Watkins from Brightpoint and I will reveal how we automated BI application development to speed delivery of critical customer-facing reports (if you are building WebFOCUS reports by hand, you need to see this to believe it!).

I realize we are all trying to do more with less in today's economy, but I encourage you to spend a few days at this conference. If you do, please stop in for our presentation and at the Partner Intelligence booth.

To learn more about the Summit 2009, visit the website. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Defining Business Intelligence

Watching a vendor's PowerPoint presentation on Business Intelligence doesn't have to be boring.

See how Microsoft does BI presentations.

Mainframe Data Sources

A individual from Omaha, Nebraska, came to my BI blog through the Ask.com search engine to learn if WebFOCUS could read mainframe tape files.

From a technical standpoint, yes, but the answer does depend on which components you have licensed and installed.

If WebFOCUS runs on your MVS mainframe, you should have no problem reading tape files. But, if WebFOCUS runs on a non-MVS platform (e.g., Windows, UNIX, AS400, or a zLinux partition on the mainframe), then you will need a mainframe component to get to the tapes.

Basically, you must have a WebFOCUS server and data adapter running on the mainframe to read tape files (or almost any other mainframe data structure for that matter -- an exception would be DB2, but that is a different topic).

If your WebFOCUS Reporting Server is not on the mainframe, it will have to ask a mainframe server for its data. Information Builders offers a lower price for this secondary mainframe component because you do not use all of the full features of WebFOCUS -- you might think of this as a limited use of a Reporting Server. Information Builders calls this a Remote Data Server or Adapter.

A potentially confusing thing is that Information Builders may say they are selling you an "adapter" for the mainframe. An adapter all by itself doesn't do anything; it has to be called by a "server." For the price you pay for the adapter, you are really getting the server as well.

Of course, for WebFOCUS to read these mainframe files, you must allocate them and have metadata descriptions. You may also want to consider only accessing tapes in scheduled batch or deferred execution requests rather than allowing users with a web browser to read tapes in a real-time mode.

I hope this answered the question. If not, be sure to contact me directly via e-mail.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

WebFOCUS Foundations

To be successful with WebFOCUS, you must first establish a solid foundation for Business Intelligence. Despite what the sales rep told you about being able to create enterprise reports within minutes of installing the software, there are no BI shortcuts.

To learn more, read my general BI blog article on BI Foundations.

If you need assistance laying this WebFOCUS foundation, feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

WebFOCUS Metadata

A Google searcher from Bangalore came to my blog with the burning question, "Why doesn't WebFOCUS have centralized metadata?"

WebFOCUS stores its metadata layer on its Reporting Server, which can run on platforms such as Windows, Linux, zLinux, zOS, etc. But, BI is not limited to a single computer and database; it is more enterprise in nature.

A WebFOCUS Reporting Server can ask for data from other servers (typically called Remote Data Servers). This means that many WebFOCUS environments will have metadata residing on several different computers.

As an example, let's say that you have a WebFOCUS Reporting Server running on Windows. All of your web BI consumers land there first with their requests for reports, queries, analytics, and so forth. This Windows box might talk to standard database such as SQL Server, Essbase, and Oracle, so it has a metadata layer and adapters that can access those structures.

However, let's assume that your BI consumers also need data from Non-Stop SQL on a Tandem box and VSAM, Datacom, and Model 204 on the mainframe.

Those are not technologies that Windows would understand.

The solution is to run a WebFOCUS Remote Data Server on the Tandem box and another one on the mainframe. The Tandem server's metadata layer and adapter will understand Non-Stop SQL; the mainframe its files.

On the central Windows box, you will have what might seem like redundant metadata pointing to the Tandem and mainframe servers. In essence, the Windows technology does not know how to get the data, only who to ask for it.

You want Non-Stop SQL and VSAM and SQL Server in the same spreadsheet? No problem: "Hey, Tandem server, it's me Windows again! Pass back these columns from your tables. Use this selection rule, calculate this virtual column for me, and sort and sum it. As soon as I get the answer set from you, I will join it to the mainframe's VSAM file (let's see which of you guys is faster!)."

I admit, WebFOCUS metadata is a bit different from that of other BI products. For one thing, WebFOCUS keeps its metadata stored in flat files using comma-separated values (did you read that twice?). Yes, it's true but that implementation is also completely open and simple. It's fast. It's effective.

WebFOCUS has a variety of tools for generating and maintaining this metadata layer. You do not need to know anything about the underlying code.

If you want, however, you can dig into the nuts and bolts and even write your own metadata utilities. For example, I have created custom routines for generating WebFOCUS metadata from proprietary data dictionaries, COBOL copybooks, spreadsheets, and even from a digital version of a report where the client did not own the electronic metadata for a legacy packaged application. I have gone the other way as well, reading the WebFOCUS metadata as a source and automatically generating SQL load routines, web launch pages, and report logic.

So the answer to the person's question is, "WebFOCUS does have centralized metadata." If you have more questions, feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cognos and WebFOCUS

If you are evaluating Business Intelligence platforms, be sure to read a posting on my general BI software blog: How to Choose Between Cognos and WebFOCUS.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Preparing for FOCUS-to-WebFOCUS Conversions

If you are considering converting your FOCUS 4GL environment to the new web-based version, here are some things you need to know.

Many people want to understand the difference between FOCUS and WebFOCUS and come to my blog looking for a comparison between the two products, so let me start there.

Both are software products from Information Builders and both share a common 4GL processor. In fact, the vendor in recent years has been able to consolidate these two products into a single code base, which is fairly portable and independent of any particular operating system.

The FOCUS product was used both interactively and in batch. Online users could communicate with menus and screens for providing information or go directly to a command processor for simple ad-hoc requests. Programs could also be run using JCL or other batch control mechanism with parameters passed in or determined by the program itself.

There are two three broad components of the FOCUS 4GL, the main piece being a non-procedural language for reporting, graphing, analysis, and maintaining data. There is also a procedural scripting language (Dialogue Manager) that provides some logical control of the embedded non-procedural code, symbolic variable substitutions, and multi-step complex processes. These are critical to enabling WebFOCUS to perform complex, dynamically-generated web applications.

A third important component is the metadata and adapter layer, which hides the complexity of the underlying data structures, allowing developers and end users to write 4GL programs with minimal knowledge of the data.

Major Features of the Procedural Scripting (Dialogue Manager):
  • Symbolic variable substitutions (calculations, prompting, file I/O, etc.)
  • System variables (date, time, userid, platform, environment settings, etc.)
  • Calculations of temporary variables
  • GOTO branch controls and procedural labels (non-conditional as well as IF-THEN-ELSE conditional branching)
  • Embedded operating system commands
  • External file I/O
  • Green-screen interactive with the user (not functional in WebFOCUS)
  • Executing procedures (EXEC command and server-side code inclusions)

Major Features of the Non-Procedural Scripting (FOCUS 4GL):
  • Reports and output files (TABLE facility)
  • Graphs (GRAPH facility)
  • Joining files (JOIN facility)
  • Matching files (MATCH facility)
  • Database maintenance (MODIFY facility; non-screen features supported in WebFOCUS, otherwise replaced by MAINTAIN)
  • Statistical analysis (ANALYZE facility; was rarely used and not ported to WebFOCUS; recently R Stat support was added)
  • Environment settings (SET phrases)
  • Calculation of temporary columns (DEFINE and COMPUTE phrases)

FOCUS-to-WebFOCUS Conversion issues:
Despite the portable FOCUS 4GL that lies beneath the covers of WebFOCUS, there are still some considerable challenges to converting from legacy to web-based architectures. I have solved some of those problems for you by automating the process. Below are some conversion issues and their potential solutions.

1) Major architectural change (single technology stack to enterprise web stack)

Solution: architect a solution that minimizes change
Solution: for new WebFOCUS app path commands, automatically add to existing code

2) New end user environment

Solution: automatically convert existing 4GL programs for users; generate scripts for loading Managed Reporting Environment; provide user training

3) Persistent sessions not supported in web environment

Solution: analyze and determine how to replicate persistence (for example, loss of "global" variables)

4) Batch processing handled differently in web environment

Solution: replicate batch jobs using WebFOCUS ReportCaster scheduler/distribution product

5) Output report formats default to HTML, which does not respect original layout

Solution: automatically add stylesheets and PDF support

6) Dumb terminal green-screens not supported in WebFOCUS

Solution: for simple menus, convert to HTML
Solution: for simple data maintenance, convert to HTML and MODIFY
Solution: for complex data maintenance, convert to MAINTAIN

7) WebFOCUS eliminated some legacy FOCUS features (text editor, end-user wizards, type to screen, ANALYZE statistical facility, etc.)

Solution: analyze and develop work-around

8) New Graph engine

Solution: automatically add support for new graph rendering (third-party Java product)

9) If moving to new platform, multiple problems, including access to legacy data, embedded OS commands, file names, allocations, user-written subroutines, userids, printer ids, integrated third-party tools (e.g., SAS, SyncSort, OS utilities), etc.

Solution: analyze and automatically convert as much as possible

10) Organization typically wants to take advantage of new features quickly

Solution: automatically add some support during conversions (e.g., spreadsheets, dynamic launch pages to consolidate existing FOCUS code) -- in other words, get rid of the legacy product as quickly as possible by doing a straight replication, but try to give the business some new things in the process

Trying to manually convert FOCUS to WebFOCUS is just not a good approach. By utilizing a proven methodology and software toolkit for automating much of the manual effort, you will dramatically reduce the time, cost, skill-set requirements, and risk of doing the legacy replacement.

Be sure to read some of my other blogs on this topic.  A good place to start is here.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hanging with the Leaders

At the beginning of 2009, Information Builders is still with the leaders in Gartner's Magic Quadrant of Business Intelligence platforms. In fact, IBI is positively moving farther from the boundary lines. Three years ago, IBI was on the fence, just threatening to leave the Challengers and join the Leaders.

Here is how Gartner describes a "Leader":

Leaders are vendors that are reasonably strong in the breadth and depth of their BI platform capabilities, and which can deliver on enterprisewide implementations that support a broad BI strategy. Leaders articulate a business proposition that resonates with buyers, supported by the viability and operational capability to deliver on a global basis.

For "Challengers", they provide the following definition:

Challengers offer a good breadth of BI platform functionality and are well positioned to succeed in the market. However, they may be limited to specific technical environments or application domains. Their vision may be hampered by a lack of coordinated strategy across the various products in their BI platform portfolio. Or they may lack the sales channel, geographic presence and industry-specific content offered by the vendors in the Leaders quadrant.

You recognize the leaders that Gartner says have the most ability to execute successfully in the BI software industry: IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. You also see SAS and MicroStrategy in the mix. IBI is a wallflower standing alone in the corner, but is considered by Gartner to be more innovative than Microsoft.

Gartner has really good things to say about IBI's BI product, based on comments from customers, many of whom say they use WebFOCUS as their standard BI tool. Gartner praises IBI for its new offerings, but points out that these innovations have not really helped IBI move beyond its core strengths in enterprise reporting.

On the negative side, Gartner points out that IBI is "late to the game" if they want to get into the on-demand side of BI (self-service, analytics, and OLAP). Gartner seems to view IBI as a vendor that is primarily positioned to deliver static enterprise information to report consumers.

Gartner continues to complain about the small amount of revenue earned by IBI through third-party channels, but points out that IBI is making an effort (by rehiring ex-IBIer Tom Rydz and putting him in charge of partnerships in early 2008). Gartner points out that IBI has twice as many North American direct sales reps as indirect throughout the world.

Gartner also waves a big red flag for IBI: a large chunk of its business is done with financial services firms -- a major downturn there means major downturn for IBI?

Gartner points out the continuing problem that IBI has little name recognition in the BI market despite having been a player since the 1970s. (Case in point: when I mentioned IBI to a Microsoft manager earlier this week, he said, "Information Builders? Never heard of them.") Even within customer sites, IBI applications are not explicitly branded, so users do not know they are using WebFOCUS.

Be sure to read the entire article, compliments of SAS, who wants everybody to know Gartner still recognizes them as the most visionary of the BI leaders.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

WebFOCUS Automagically

What if developing WebFOCUS applications could be done with the click of a button? It sure would ruin all the fun, wouldn't it?

After manually building WebFOCUS applications for years, I got tired of the redundant work. Really, I was just copying a tried-and-true template and then making some manual changes to the code. I finally thought, "Why not just generate the underlying logic?"

My starting point for this magic is the WebFOCUS metadata. It has most of what a person needs for developing a report -- the name of the table/view and the column names. Using the WebFOCUS Developer Studio, I add a few additional things to the standard metadata: include some column descriptions, identify the dimensions and measures, mark which columns should be parameters on a launch page (and where to find a list-of-values for pull-downs), hide some columns from the user, and so forth.

With that done, I use a C++ application to parse the metadata and use that to generate an HTML launch page and WebFOCUS report logic. Both are highly parameterized and dynamic. The webpage allows the user to specify detail/summary report, enter selection criteria, and identify sort columns, page-breaks, subtotals, output formats, etc.

If the selection columns are dates, the tool automatically generates GUI calendar controls. If there is a list-of-value program identified in the metadata, the launch page will be generated with dynamically populated pull-downs (for either single- or multiple-selections). For long lists of values, pop-up searches are available.

The user can also select which columns to display on the report, change the column titles, and resequence the columns.

I put some extra work into the generated code to make sure the WebFOCUS Developer Studio could open the results -- for example, the HTML Painter can display the launch screen. That means a developer can in the future easily enhance and support the generated application.

Not happy to just create one WebFOCUS application at a time, I added a mass-generation feature: the utility reads all WebFOCUS metadata in a folder and generates hundreds of launch pages and reports in seconds.

So, is it as fulfilling to click a button instead of typing for days to develop an application? Well, the results are the same and it is fun to see the look on peoples' faces when I crank out hundreds of WebFOCUS reports in seconds.

Will you see this as a new feature for WebFOCUS sometime in the future? Not if the vendor wants to keep its Consulting revenues!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Need for Speed - WebFOCUS

Have you ever wanted a Kawasaki motorcycle that could go 185 miles per hour? What if you could get your WebFOCUS application developers moving that fast?

See more about this on my general BI blog and contact me if you are interested in learn more.

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.