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 consultant, helping data-intensive firms use agile methods and automation tools to replace legacy reporting and bring in modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics. For several world-class vendors, I led services teams specializing in providing software implementation and custom application development. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven methodologies and automated software tools.

During twenty years of technical consulting, I have been blessed to work with smart people from some of the world's most respected organizations, including: 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, graduating summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders, the vendor of WebFOCUS BI and iWay enterprise integration products, and for over a dozen years served in branch leadership roles. For several years, I also led technical teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the 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.