Thursday, December 29, 2011

New WebFOCUS Newsletter

Information Builders, the software vendor of the WebFOCUS BI product, has just published the January/February 2012 newsletter that you can read by clicking here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Information Builders Discloses Summit 2012

Information Builders, the software vendor of WebFOCUS and iWay Software, recently disclosed the location of the 2012 annual users group meeting.

IBI will once again hold the Summit conference in Orlando, Florida; or more accurately, in Kissimmee at the Gaylord Palms.

The five-day event starts on Sunday, June 3rd, and lasts through Thursday, June 7.

Online registration is already open. Click here to register.

Don't take me wrong, but I am excited most about the probably offsite event (I'm guessing IBI will once again rent out the Streets of New York section of Universal Studios).

Not that the other parts of the Summit are not good--education sessions, meeting with experts, networking, food, drinks, etc.--but who can compete with some great 3-D reality rides?

On the other hand, I am disappointed to learn the Universal Studios recently shut down the Jimmy Neutron Nicktoon Blast ride. Hopefully, Universal Studios will have the "Despicable Me" replacement open before the Summit attendees show up in June 2012.

And when you are at the Summit 2012 event, be sure to stop by the Partner Intelligence booth. While I do not have the details worked out yet, Partner Intelligence should be presenting one of the educational sessions. Stay tuned for more information. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wireframe Mockups for WebFOCUS Dashboards

If you are looking for a way to collaboratively design your WebFOCUS BI dashboards, there is an excellent tool on the market. Software vendor Balsamiq offers a low-cost low-fidelity software application for creating user interfaces mockups.

See my general BI blog for more information. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

WebFOCUS Drops Legacy End-User Assist Tools

Information Builders, the software vendor of enterprise BI WebFOCUS, announced today they will drop support for some legacy end-user report builders as of WebFOCUS 8.0.0, expected to be released sometime yet this year.

No longer supported will be the Report Assist and Graph Assist tools. Both will be replaced with the newer web-based RIA InfoAssist end-user reporting feature. 

Few people should be concerned about these tools going away. Both user interfaces were old Java applets, which meant that software needed to be installed on end-user desktops. Replacing these legacy technologies with a better web-based product is the appropriate thing to do. 

Any reporting applications that your end users generated using the Report Assist and Graph Assist should still be fine. When you get to WebFOCUS 8, however, the legacy code will be opened with the InfoAssist product. 

I suspect there could be issues where the new parsers cannot understand the legacy code, but we will have to wait and see.

In addition to Report Assist and Graph Assist, WebFOCUS 8 will also sunset these features:
  • Managed Reporting (MR) Applet User Interface
  • Reporting Object Applet Tool
  • Alert Wizard Applet Tool
  • Publish Utility Applet Tool
  • Applet-based Graphs, Graph Editor (accessible from Applet-based graphs), and Old Graph Engine (GRAPH32)
  • ReportCaster Applet Interface and Scheduling Wizard
  • Power Painter
  • Advanced Graph Assistant
  • Developer Studio Graph Assistant
  • Developer Studio Managed Reporting Publish Utility

For more information on this announcement, see IBI's WebFOCUS Release 8 Tools Consolidation statement. For more information on when you can expect WebFOCUS 8, see IBI's release schedule.

If you discover you need to convert legacy code based on any WebFOCUS 8 changes, let me know. For example, IBI is also dropping CGI support for HTML launch pages calling WebFOCUS; this is something that Partner Intelligence can assist you with an automated conversion

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

WebFOCUS Testing

Somewhere in India, people appear to be taking a Business Intelligence test that involves questions about Information Builders and WebFOCUS.

Over a period of eight hours, I saw a bunch of blog hits from people in Pune, Hyderabad, and Mumbai who were all searching for the name of the vendor who owned WebFOCUS.

One person even cut and pasted into their Google query what looks like a test question (or some type of online exercise):
1. Identify the software vendor for the Business Intelligence tool "WebFocus"

If you are taking a BI test, you must have gotten that question right (and, hopefully, using Google to find answers is not frowned upon). If you come across other tough ones, I am here to help.

Bonus Points: If you want to impress your testers, be sure to point out that the actual mixed-case spelling of the product is officially "WebFOCUS."

Monday, November 14, 2011

PSA for Zombie Preparedness

If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.
You can never be too prepared.

See what the Center for Disease Control says about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse.

I think the CDC is on to something, using humor and pop culture to pull unsuspecting people into a conversation about a serious topic, such as preparing your family for an emergency.

There may be more people out there searching for information on zombies than on a family emergency plan.

I will let you know if my blog search hits for Business Intelligence software go way up just by mentioning zombies. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New WebFOCUS Feature to Ignore Your BI Users

Information Builders introduces so many new WebFOCUS features with such little fanfare that it is difficult to keep up.

That being the case, I suspect that few people are aware of a new feature in the WebFOCUS HTML Composer for ignoring parameter values. It is an enhancement to a nifty feature that came out many releases back called "FOC_NONE."

This takes some historical explanations. Consider as an example building a graphical user interface for a report with an option to select data for a particular geographic region. Of course, that selection is optional, so you give your users the ability to identify "ALL" regions as well.  

In the early web application development days, WebFOCUS developers would dynamically build a WHERE condition with the user-selected values and, for the "ALL" option, either skip around that with a GOTO or build a symbolic WHERE line that would be blank. However, that type of coding often meant that the WebFOCUS GUI tool was immediately confused and would no longer paint the report. 

To help overcome this challenge, Information Builders added logic to WebFOCUS to ignore any lines which contained a keyword of "FOC_NONE." By setting your selection criteria to "WHERE REGION IS FOC_NONE," you could guarantee the line would just be ignored resulting in the "ALL" condition you wanted.

Again, some background information is useful. There are two types of WebFOCUS language: one procedural and the other non-procedural. The processor for reading the languages is called Dialogue Manager. As it reads the code, the procedural statements are executed immediately while the non-procedural statements are placed into a stack of memory for later execution.

So the FOC_NONE processing takes place within Dialogue Manager and the core WebFOCUS non-procedural language is totally unaware. The Dialogue Manager line containing FOC_NONE is processed (the special keyword does not cause the line to be ignored); only the non-procedural lines get ignored. 

Now, fast forward to the latest WebFOCUS 7.7 release.

The new WebFOCUS HTML Composer now has an option to specify the "ALL" ignore option as either FOC_NONE or a new keyword: _FOC_NULL. These two words are deceptively similar but very different.

For one, the FOC_NONE keyword is processed by Dialogue Manager by throwing away the entire line being parsed and not putting it into the WebFOCUS stack for processing.

_FOC_NULL, on the other, is a new part of the core language syntax. Instead of ignoring lines with that keyword, Dialogue Manager will put the line into the stack and let WebFOCUS figure out what to do with it.

So what will WebFOCUS do with _FOC_NULL? If inside a WHERE statement, WebFOCUS will ignore it much like it would with the legacy FOC_NONE option.

Everywhere else, however, WebFOCUS will see the _FOC_NULL. When embedded inside headings and footings, that new keyword will just show up as a blank. Typically, this is where you want FOC_NONE and ignore the entire line.

Perhaps a more useful place for _FOC_NULL is with DEFINE calculations. Let's say that you create a temporary column with a symbolic variable. Later, you use that column in another calculation.

If the parameter value is provided, all works well.

However, if you get a FOC_NONE value in the first calculation, the entire calculation is ignored. When WebFOCUS comes to the second statement that references the first, it fails (since the first calculation was never really processed). You end up with a syntax error because WebFOCUS ignored the line with FOC_NONE (just like it is supposed to do).

If you were to pass in the _FOC_NULL keyword instead, then the first calculation would be processed but with a null value. The second calculation would then work, albeit with no real data.

Still, I have problems with this new feature. In real-life, sometimes you need FOC_NONE and sometimes _FOC_NULL behavior in the exact same program. That means coding to switch values back and back between the two keywords. Perhaps it would have been better to create an environmental setting to change the FOC_NONE behavior instead of having two different keywords.

My other concern is that the HTML Composer's default behavior is to generate the new _FOC_NULL keyword instead of the legacy FOC_NONE. I would prefer that enhancements follow a more "backward-compatible" philosophy. 

Unfortunately, the HTML Composer has in the past changed behavior so that previously-built WebFOCUS applications stopped working. I have some inside scoop on how Information Builders plans to avoid this in the future and I will blog about it shortly.   

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hiding Symbolic Variables from WebFOCUS HTML Composer

One of the powerful features of WebFOCUS is the ability to symbolically represent data, content, and instructions--basically anything in a program--and process these variables with a procedural scripting language, known as Dialogue Manager.

Sometimes, symbolic variables are created and used only within a single program. In this case, WebFOCUS developers use the -SET command to dynamically specify a variable's value. The syntax of the -SET command is varied; statements can be a simple assignment, logical with an IF-THEN-ELSE statement, mathematical, process strings, call subroutines, or a combination of these. 

At other times, values for symbolic variables are just passed into the program after having been set elsewhere. For example, your WebFOCUS program may get parameter values from an HTML launch page, another WebFOCUS program, or some other technology. Either a human user or an application could be passing in the desired values. 

Best Practices

For these types of symbolic variables coming from an external source, it is a best practice to always provide a default value. If WebFOCUS runs a program where no value has been assigned to a symbolic variable, it will automatically prompt you for the value (assuming this feature is turned on, otherwise it will just fail).

For a software developer creating WebFOCUS programs, it is also nice to have default values inside the code instead of having to retype them each time you run a specific module.

Within the program, always explicitly identify the variables that will be passed in from the outside. There also seems to be a common practice (I'm not sure who started this, but I see it at many WebFOCUS accounts) of naming these variables with &XP_. Other developers will tell you to use names as short as possible to avoid hitting a URL string-size limitation in the IE browser. 

Default Values

You provide default values for these external variables using the -DEFAULT command.

Unlike the -SET command, -DEFAULT only allows simple assignments. It is also different from all other  non-procedural WebFOCUS commands, in that it is executed when (and other if) needed at the beginning of the process regardless of its location in the code sequence. Because of this, most WebFOCUS developers avoid confusion by grouping their -DEFAULT commands at the top of their modules.

HTML Composer

With all that said, it is important to understand that the Developer Studio's HTML Composer evaluates the WebFOCUS programs for these symbolic variables. When it sees the -DEFAULT commands, it assumes that you will want to create HTML controls for these symbolic variables.

If these parameters need to be passed from the HTML launch page to the WebFOCUS program, the HTML Composer is making a very good choice. The launch page needs corresponding controls and logic to pass parameter values to WebFOCUS properly.

However, your WebFOCUS programs may be passing parameters to each other (e.g., in report or graph drill-downs) and the HTML launch page does not need to know anything about it.

In a situation where you have symbolic variables being passed into WebFOCUS programs from a source other than the HTML launch page, you can instruct the HTML Composer to ignore these using an alternative form of the default command, which is -DEFAULTH.

The H in -DEFAULTH stands for "hidden." Do not confuse this with a hidden input control in the HTML sense of the word (since those often still need to be passed from HTML to WebFOCUS). Instead, you are marking it to be hidden from the HTML Composer.

When you link a WebFOCUS program to an HTML inline frame, the HTML Composer will parse your program and offer to build controls for any of the -DEFAULT variables and ignore those with -DEFAULTH.

This is a very nice feature added to the core WebFOCUS language to help you build HTML launch pages. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

WebFOCUS Predictive Analytics with no Add-Ons

The underlying WebFOCUS language has a built-in statistical function that can perform some basic predictive analytics. If you only need basic data forecasting, there may be no need to purchase a third-party statistical product. 

Out of the box, WebFOCUS supports the following forecasting functions:

  • Linear Regressions
  • Simple Moving Averages
  • Exponential Moving Averages (single, double, and triple)

Using linear regression, a WebFOCUS application can calculate a straight line that best fits a time-series of actual data points. The predictions are then future points along this straight line past the available actual data values.

A moving average is commonly used with a series of data spread over a time period to identify long-term trends or to smooth out short-term fluctuations. You might also know this as a rolling average, rolling mean, or running average. The WebFOCUS application tells the forecasting function how many data values to use when calculating the averages.

A simple moving average calculates averages using the actual data values. For an exponential moving average, the function calculates a weighted moving average using an actual data value and its previously calculated average. The weighting factors decrease exponentially over time, never reaching zero. 

In a single exponential moving average (also known as smoothing), the WebFOCUS application applies multipliers (weights) to the newer and older values. However, this technique may not accurately identify real trends in the data series.  To better handle true data trending, the WebFOCUS function provides for both double and triple exponential moving averages.

In a double exponential moving average, weighting accounts for the tendency of data to either increase or decrease over time without repeating. In a triple exponential moving average, weighting accounts for repeated seasonal fluctuations in the data in addition to the trend.

You can read more about this on Information Builders' documentation site.  

It your BI application needs only the basic forecasting methods using linear regression, simple moving averages, or exponential moving averages, WebFOCUS may already have the features you need. If however you need more robust analytics, then implementing industry-strength statistical products such as the open source R language, IBM's SPSS, SAS, or KXEN may be more appropriate than using the standard WebFOCUS forecasting function. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

One Simple WebFOCUS BI Best Practice - Personal Backups

While developing WebFOCUS BI applications, you will invariably experience a "Duh!" moment. You just saved something bad to the development server and immediately wish you could somehow undo a potentially time-consuming mistake.

One way to ensure you can get the coding equivalent of a golfing "Mulligan" is by adopting a practice of creating personal backups of your BI applications. With earlier snapshots of the application available, you can virtually go back in time and get code as it was before your poorly-made change. 

Having a personal backup saves you the embarrassment of groveling to the system administrator to see if he might be able to find your files within last night's system backup. 

Where to Keep Personal Backups
Because I often work at the client site and on their systems, I typically keep a backup library on a removable thumb drive. For my own company's development, I keep backups on a USB extension hard drive.

For my personal backups, I (almost daily) create a folder with the name of the client and date of the save, for example: "ABC Financial Dashboard (2011 Oct 17)." While a backup done each morning is usually sufficient, if I am getting ready to do something major in the afternoon after having already done quite a bit of development in the morning, I may make a "PM" version in addition to the original "AM" one.

I group all of these daily backup folders into a parent folder for that particular client. On a regular basis, I might go back and weed out all of the duplicates. For example, I have been making regular backups of the BI Consolidator software application for about ten years. Every so often, I clean out this important backup folder by deleting all but one version for each previous month.

How to Create Personal Backups
Components of WebFOCUS applications can exist on multiple platforms in a variety of libraries. So when creating a personal backup, remember to capture a snapshot of the important pieces on both the WebFOCUS Report Server and the Managed Reporting web tier.

On the WebFOCUS Report Server, you typically have an application folder which at the least contains metadata. In addition to this one, there may be other important folders in the path as well (e.g., the always-present BASEAPP or perhaps a shared template folder), so consider backing up more than just your application folder.

Backing up the WFRS application folders is straight-forward and we can use the Developer Studio Windows-based product to just copy and paste. There are two places to view the WFRS application folders, the first being near the top under the Data Server (EDASERVE) view.

When using this Data Server view, Developer Studio provides a segregated look at the different components and groups them into virtual folders. That makes backing up all of the files difficult. A more appropriate view for backups can be found at the bottom of the Developer Studio tree on the left-hand side under "Web Applications."

With this view, Developer Studio displays all of the components in the WFRS application folder in a simple list. To create a backup, select all of these files and copy them to the Windows clipboard.

Then, paste the WFRS files into the current day's backup folder. If you need to backup multiple application folders, you might want to create a separate backup folder for each (e.g., BASEAPP, FINANCE, and OPERATIONS).

The Managed Reporting Environment on the web server is a bit more complex. There is security information, real and descriptive names, and so forth. Luckily, Information Builders created a Change Management feature for exporting MRE applications from one image and importing them into another. For our backup purposes, we can just let WebFOCUS perform an export and keep the zipped archive file as our MRE backup.

From the MRE Main Menu (the /ibi_apps/ link), click on the "Managed Reporting Change Management Extract" feature. From the next screen, select from the MRE tree on the left the MRE Domain you want to backup. Although we typically only work in one MRE Domain at a time, remember to backup all the ones that are being actively modified as part of your application development effort.

Check the option to download the file and click on the button to create a Change Management Package. The web page will give you a Save dialog box and let you write the resulting zip archive file into your backup folder.

Inside this zip file, you will see an XML document called "cmRepos" and a folder for each of your saved MRE Domains. The cmRepos document contains additional information that WebFOCUS needs to import this change management package back into another environment.

The MRE Domain folder contains a subfolder called "apps" which contains all of your WebFOCUS application code.

When You Need to Restore
When you have that "oh no" moment during WebFOCUS application development, just go back to your backup folder. Find the earlier version of the code you messed up and open the file with a text editor such as Notepad. Select all and copy it to the Windows clipboard. Then go into Developer Studio, open the bad code with the IDE text editor and paste in the copied earlier version.

Of course, you may want to make a quick backup of the bad code first. Hopefully, you can use something and not have to entirely recreate the work you lost by reverting to the backup version. Still, this is a better option than being under stress to correct an existing problem on the development server (by the way, you would never develop on the production server, right?). 

Yes, even You will stumble into a self-imposed dumb experience. Taking the time to be a little paranoid and make personal backups is a smart thing to do. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Brotherhood Mutual and WebFOCUS BI

Rob talks about WebFOCUS
Rob Fosnaugh, manager of Business Intelligence for Brotherhood Mutual in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was recently recorded talking about his feelings on Information Builders and their BI software product, WebFOCUS.

For more than ninety years, Brotherhood Mutual has provided insurance for America's churches and ministries. They purchased the WebFOCUS product about five years ago. Despite having no previous WebFOCUS experience at the time, Rob leveraged his background in other BI products to quickly develop sophisticated insurance dashboards with IB's software.

If you are interested in learning more about how Brotherhood Mutual uses WebFOCUS, you can download Rob's presentation from the Summit 2011 annual users' conference held in Dallas.

Brotherhood Mutual is more than just a commercial venture; they share a common vision with their customers and actively assist Christian ministries. For example, see their work with a comic book aimed at helping today's children deal with moral dilemmas.

See Rob's video here.

Partner Has a New BI Recruiter

Partner just keeps getting better. Named as a finalist in the Best Places to Work in Cincinnati, great people are taking notice.

This month, Lynn Holliday joined us as Director of Human Resources. In addition to her management duties, Lynn will play a special role in helping Partner Intelligence recruit WebFOCUS BI professionals.

For the past dozen years, Lynn has specialized in recruiting technical professionals. Recently, she has specialized in Business Intelligence skills.

Partner Intelligence continues to see profitable growth, but WebFOCUS skills are hard to find. Having a dedicated WebFOCUS recruiting staff should make for an exciting 2012 year.

If you have the right BI experience and skills, now is the time to talk to Lynn about an exciting open position to join a growing organization with some of the best WebFOCUS consultants in the Midwest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Partner Named 2011 Finalist in Cincinnati's Best Places to Work

The Business Courier has selected Partner as one of 50 finalists for the 2011 Best Places to Work in Cincinnati.

For more information about Partner, see the Business Courier's September finalist announcement and read their August article about Partner's amazing growth during hard economic times. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where are the WebFOCUS Skills?

In a recent general BI blog post, I wrote about the use of social networking sites such as LinkedIn by individuals in the business intelligence software industry.

Within my LinkedIn network, 80% of the BI skills listed were grouped into SAS, IBM SPSS, SAP Business Objects, and IBM Cognos. Not far below those on the list were Microsoft and Oracle products.

However, Information Builders' WebFOCUS was way down the list. Within the United States, I could only find about 1400 people who mentioned that skill anywhere on their LinkedIn profiles.

If you are a WebFOCUS professional and not using social media, you need to consider it to be just as important as a resume (in fact, LinkedIn could become an alternative to the traditional resume).

In the past few years, recruiters have turned to social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as a predominate method of locating talent. In a recent Jobvite survey, almost all of the 800 survey respondents said they had successfully hired a person through LinkedIn.

If you have not already, setup a LinkedIn profile and document WebFOCUS as a skill. Be sure to send me an invitation to connect. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Converting FOCUS to WebFOCUS: Unsupported Features

If you are getting ready to convert your FOCUS applications over to WebFOCUS, be sure to get my checklist of items you should consider by going to this blog posting.

One thing I failed to mention in that article was that Information Builders eliminated several legacy FOCUS features (text editor, end-user wizards, type to screen, statistical facility, etc.) and did not move them to WebFOCUS. Certain things that you may have done in FOCUS no longer exist in the web version.

Therefore, when analyzing a FOCUS-to-WebFOCUS conversion, look for these old features embedded in the 4GL code:
  • TED (text editor)
  • TABLETALK (end user reporting wizard)
  • MODIFYTALK (end user data maintenance wizard)
  • ANALYZE (statistical analysis)
  • FIDEL (green-screen processor used within MODIFY)
  • FMMAIN (the FOCUS Menu facility)
  • ISHFSHLL (the TSO FOCUS Toolkit)
  • PWREP (the TSO Power Reporter)

Converting batch jobs (MVS JCL) from FOCUS to WebFOCUS can also raise serious issues. For more information, see this blog posting.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Monday, August 15, 2011

WebFOCUS Closed-Loop Mobile BI

Information Builders, the vendor of enterprise BI product WebFOCUS, announced today "closed-loop BI" support for mobile devices.

This is not a new skill for Information Builders. From the start, their products have had features for full application development tasks. Not only can their BI product display information content to the users, but it can interact and gather raw data. Closed-loop means that the user can view information as well as change it.

While some organizations are concerned about BI applications that update data, others embrace it. For one Partner Intelligence client, we implemented a dashboard solution that provided their purchasing group with suggestions for saving money. However, if a purchasing decision maker disagreed with the automated recommendation, he or she could click on that line and cause it to disappear from that and future reports.

That "closed-loop" reporting feature updated a flag in the database identifying that piece of information to be excluded from the report. It was an easy task with WebFOCUS, but may have been near impossible with a typical report writing software product.

WebFOCUS also provided a way for that client to enter currently-not-available information. The purchasing person had some inside information about a future agreement that was not yet in the ERP system. Using a BI data entry screen, this person could add this piece of breaking news into the application that would influence the savings advice for everybody the next day.

During nightly processing, WebFOCUS picks up the new information, builds a formal transaction, and passes it along to the ERP system so that this new information can become active. Had the client needed more real-time synchronization, we could have made the ERP communication happen on a data-change basis.

Many people still dismiss handheld devices such as phones and tablets as being devices only good for "consumption." They want to pigeon-hole mobile devices to reading information, unable to process transactions and update data. Information Builders may help change this attitude.

For more information on Information Builder's closed-loop mobile BI offerings, see their press release

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summit 2011 Partner Intelligence Give-Away Winner

Congratulations go out to Kyle at Dollar General in Goodlettsville, TN, for winning Partner Intelligence's raffle give-away at Information Builders' Summit 2011.

Not present at the "Ask Gerry" session where Information Builders announced the winner, Kyle found out via e-mail that he now owned an Amazon Kindle book reader. Partner Intelligence consultant Rick Koch visited Kyle a few days later to hand deliver the Kindle.

In addition to Kyle himself, his employer Dollar General was a big winner. See IB's blog for more information.

Summit 2011 IBI Winner

This year, Partner Intelligence created a new tradition of raffling a prize for the IBI employees staffing the annual users group event. Typically, these hard-working individuals are not allowed to participate in any Summit give-aways.

All that has changed in 2011 with Lori Pieper, a Senior System Engineer at the Cincinnati office, winning an Amazon Kindle book reader. Congratulations, Lori!

Summit 2011 Best Customer Presentation

Last night, Gerry Cohen of Information Builders announced the best customer presentation out of the entire five-day event. The award went to Chris Byrne of Paycor, a well-known Cincinnati-based payroll processing firm.

A fairly new IBI customer, Paycor created a unique web reporting solution. Using web services, Chris and the Paycor team were able to get to the underlying nuts and bolts of WebFOCUS, expose them to an ASP.NET web application, and craft an impressive ad-hoc reporting application.

Thrilled, the audience gave Chris the highest votes of all the customer-led sessions. Congratulations, Chris!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Big BI Event in Texas

Things are big down here in Texas at the Information Builders' Summit 2011 event.

So when we called a shuttle to take us to a nearby restaurant, we should not have been surprised at the size of the ride. I told those with me that I think we were the oldest folks to be inside our tricked-out stretch Hummer, as it was obviously designed for teenagers on prom night.

When we arrived, the restaurant was wonderful. The concierge at the Hilton Anatole had recommended Truluck's on McKinney Avenue and what a wonderful suggestion that was. The great people at Truluck's did everything exactly right. 

However, if you do drive your own Hummer over to Truluck's, be sure to go the speed limit. As we ate dinner, we observed one of Dallas' finest perform an ongoing stop-and-ticket campaign one right after another. And you never know, these might be big Texan traffic fines. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WebFOCUS Job Opportunity - BI Consultant

As the leading Midwest provider of WebFOCUS business intelligence talent, Partner Intelligence continues to grow. We have consultants in Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville. We specialize in critical BI initiatives such as strategic advice; dashboards and application development; and automated conversions.

Since we first started the company in 2007, the software vendor of WebFOCUS Information Builders has chosen us to augment their Professional Services organization. In addition to working on IBI vendor engagements across the country, Partner Intelligence also provides services directly to regional clients.

The vendor named us an elite Solution Partner, providing us with the ability to resell the WebFOCUS BI product as part of our services engagements. As a formal partner, we have access to WebFOCUS software, technical support, documentation, training, and other resources.

We have performed successful projects for many of the regional WebFOCUS customers. Because our reputation is so important to us, we make sure each and every engagement is setup to win; our Partner Intelligence consultants have a full support team behind them.

We have immediate opportunities for experienced individuals to join our team as full-time employees and participate in our exciting client engagements.  We offer competitive benefits, a tremendous learning opportunity, and a fun time.

You can expect:
  • Competitive Base Salary (paid bi-weekly)
  • Variable Bonus Plan (paid annually)
  • Long-Term Incentive Plan (calculated annually)
  • Paid Holidays
  • Paid Time Off Plan (based on length of service)
  • Travel Expenses covered, with hotel and airfare direct-billed to Partner
  • Travel Agency to assist with your travel plans 
  • 401K
  • Group Insurance Plans: Health, Dental, Vision, Life
  • Long-Term Disability Plan
  • WebFOCUS Mentoring and Training 
  • Notebook computer with full WebFOCUS environment 
  • Challenging WebFOCUS consulting engagements 

If you are looking for a full-time career with like-minded passionate individuals where you can maximize your skills and build a strong BI reputation, consider Partner Intelligence.

Our partners have excellent career opportunities. Our customers come to us for the complex BI initiatives that they cannot do themselves nor find expertise elsewhere (even the software vendor turns to us).

In addition to Consultants, we need Practice Leaders in a variety of specialties, such as BI dashboard application development, automated legacy conversions, Best Practice advisory sessions, and Project Management. If you want to move into a business role, we also need Recruiters and Business Development professionals. You may even be able to start your own branch of Partner Intelligence in the geography of your choosing.  

If you are interested in joining us, please contact me immediately at DLautzenheiser at my PIforBI dot com e-mail address.

Be sure to read more about us at this link.

Breaking News from 2011 September 19: The Courier just named Partner one of 50 Finalists for the 2011 Best Places to Work in Cincinnati. Read more about it here

Summit 2011 for Networking

Information Builders' Summit 2011 is proving itself to be an excellent "people place." If you are here, you have made some great new contacts among this community of BI practitioners as well as run into some familiar faces from past events.

Information Builders has organized the event well to facilitate mingling and conversations. The breakfast, lunch, break, and reception activities are all perfectly suited for talking with guests, analysts, and vendors. Tonight is the offsite Rodeo event, another great place to interact with people.

Gerry, Vashti, and Mark
People from around the globe are here, from both small and large organizations (the Canadians will spend some extra time at the event now that Air Canada went on strike today). I would guess that the audience mix is 80% technical and 20% business users.

Yesterday, I had breakfast with Lt. John of the New York City's 1PD. Passionate about his job, Lt. John supports about 4000 detectives with a WebFOCUS application for incident reporting, arrests, and criminal investigations. In a few minutes, I will watch his presentation.

Equally passionate was Teri from a financial services firm who had created a SaaS reporting application using web services to get to the nuts and bolts of WebFOCUS and opened it up to external customers.

At lunch, I sat with individuals who use WebFOCUS to do financial dashboards for a non-profit organization in Texas. At dinner, I had a great time with BI professionals from a variety of industries.

I had the good fortune of sharing an elevator with Howard Dresner and having a nice chat while walking to the sessions. Later that night, Wayne Eckerson stopped by the Partner Intelligence booth for a conversation. I was also able to spend time with many of the great IBI employees.

About two hundred people have already dropped off raffle tickets to win a free Amazon Kindle book reader. I wish there was enough time to get to know each of them.

Talking to people, it is obvious that we have a tight job market for WebFOCUS professionals. There is a shortage of qualified people out there, everybody has a job, and many companies are trying to hire. I talked to several people who had just recently switched employers.

This is an exciting time to be a BI professional. The more people you know, the better your career opportunities. If you are here in Dallas at the Summit 2011, be sure to stop at the Partner Intelligence booth and introduce yourself.

Monday, June 13, 2011

IB Summit 2011 Has Started!

Information Builders' annual user conference is off to a great start. Last night was the Welcome Reception with open bar and an excellent meal.  I was surprised to see a full spread and not just finger food like in the past few years. Instead, the Hilton Anatole in Dallas served up dishes containing roast duck, halibut, tenderloin, lobster, and crab.

Is this a sign of the economy in general or just BI software?

We had a great turnout at our Partner Intelligence booth, where we are giving away one Amazon Kindle book reader to a customer and another one to an IBI employee. At conferences, vendor employees working the booths and presenting rarely get included in the give-away drawings. Here at Summit, with top-notch freebies such as iPads, iPods, XBox 360s, and so forth, I felt especially bad for my WebFOCUS/iWay friends so I bought an extra Kindle.

On this Monday morning, the General Session has just wrapped up. It was obvious from the size of the ballroom that Summit attendance is higher than last year. During his talk, Gerry Cohen showed three slides of new US customer logos since last year's event and two more slides of new international customers. Things seem to be going well for Information Builders.

During the software demonstration, IBI announced in passing that their WebFOCUS Developer Studio product will be replaced with a new "App Developer" that was created with a similar look-and-feel as the InfoAssist end-user reporting tool. Now, both products with have the Microsoft Ribbon Bar feature. The switch is to happen in WebFOCUS 8.0.

The other big item of interest during the software demos was the emphasis on mobile BI. Frankly, I was concerned last year when IBI only gave away iPads but did not talk about them in their software presentations. I was especially worried that their development seemed to be focused on Adobe Flash which would not work on the Apple devices.

But today, IBI indicated they are committed to BI on any platform. When the demo person showed a Flash graph, he added in a comment of "Of course, on your iPad this would be using HTML 5 to get the same content."  (Just as a side comment, I spoke with a gentleman who won an iPad at Summit last year. He said he was the first person in his small organization to have one. After they saw his new innovation, thirty-seven of his associates have since bought an iPad.)

The industry analysts talked about mobile BI as well. As always, audience interaction with the panel was good. Members included Howard Dresner, Wayne  Eckerson, Boris Evelson, Cindi Howson, Mark Smith, and Dan Vessett.

Some comments from the analysts provide some insight into the larger audience and fancier accoutrements of this year's event. First, BI has become mainstream and executives have jumped onto the bandwagon. Also, BI is not necessarily an IT topic. Instead, over half of the BI initiatives are being driven by the business people. IT is being forced to adapt.

One area of adaptation is in mobile computing. Mark Smith commented that today's executives are impatient. In the past, they had a team of reporting specialists producing daily "briefing books" of important information. Now, executives want that information real-time on their mobile devices and are frustrated that IT cannot make it happen quickly.

Another important trend is the shortage of BI professionals. Boris Evelson talked about the high level of job security we in the BI space are enjoying now and which we will continue to see into the future. Business is constantly facing new challenges and needs information to make the best decisions. Because of this, Boris said, "BI never stands still."

The good BI professional is hard to find. That is because he or she has both technical skills and business acumen. Wayne Eckerson called these the "purple people" because of their unique traits and scarcity. Cindi Howson agreed, saying that in her research she saw that the number one key success factor for BI was executive sponsorship; number two was having these hybrid business/IT people leading the BI team.

Howard Dresner discussed a case study where a "purple person" became an "organizational activist" who used BI as a lever to change the entire company culture. Dan Vesset pointed out that BI professionals need to learn to market themselves within their organization. Mark Smith said that some organizations are using social media to identify their internal "purple people" and engage them on the official BI teams.

So things are getting off to a great start. Keep an eye on the blog for more information.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Be My Guest at IBI Summit 2011 in Dallas!

Are you really not attending Information Builders' annual WebFOCUS user group coming up in June?

If you are not coming for financial reasons, perhaps I can help.

Being a premier sponsor of the event, Partner Intelligence has a number of "guest" tickets that can get you in the door for free. I would be happy to provide one to you, especially if you have never before been to the event. You would still have to cover your own travel costs, but Partner Intelligence would take care of your conference attendance fee.

I have a limited number of tickets left and need to confirm attendance very quickly. Contact me at DLau....
as soon as possible if you are sincerely interested in being my guest.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

IBI Announces Off-Site Event for Summit 2011

Information Builders kept the secret as long as they could. Their off-site event for Summit 2011 is a rodeo.

You should not be too impressed with my psychic abilities to predict this (see my earlier blog). The Summit is in Dallas, Texas; did you expect an Hawaiian luau?

On Tuesday evening, the 14th of June, you will want to get in line early at the Anatole Hilton's Chantilly entrance for a 7:30PM bus ride to the Resistol Arena to see the Mesquite Pro Rodeo.

IBI says to expect three and a half hours of rip-roaring rodeo recreation. In addition to partaking in food and drinks, you can ride on a mechanical bull and in a stagecoach (hopefully, "stagecoach" is not rodeo jargon for what we non-Texans would call an ambulance).

Now that you know the secret, be sure to pack your clothing and spurs accordingly. 

Free WebFOCUS Software

On a regular basis, I see Google searches where individuals are looking for free WebFOCUS software or for trial licenses.

Traditionally, Information Builders has adamantly refused to provide trial licenses of their business intelligence and integration products. Free copies of their software are going to be out of the question.

Because this is enterprise software, the total price you would be asked to pay depends upon several variables such as your hardware platform, the databases you intend to access, and the number and type of users.

If you are a corporate buyer of software and have not yet engaged the IBI software vendor directly, free feel to contact me directly to discuss your options. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

IBI and IBM Talk Mainframe

On the 11th of May, 2011, Information Builders CEO Gerry Cohen will be the featured speaker on an IBM webinar presenting his thoughts on the future of the mainframe.

Also speaking will be Leo Porter-Lee, a senior technical analyst at Chubb. Moderator for the event will be Doug Rock, the publisher of IBM Systems Magazine, from MSP TechMedia.

For more information or to register for the event, see their web invitation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

IBI Summit 2011 FAQs

Information Builders has posted a list of frequently-asked questions about Summit 2011 in Dallas, Texas, on their website.

For example, IBI answers some important questions about the evening events:

  • Sunday night (June 12th): Welcome Reception
  • Monday night (June 13th): Cocktail Reception 
  • Tuesday night (June 14th): Off-Site Event 
  • Wednesday night (June 15th): President's Reception (Ask Gerry) 

If like past events, you will also be invited on Monday night to a Regional Cocktail Receptions following the general reception. Each of the Information Builders' field sales force regions will gather their customers and provide a smaller networking event somewhere in the Hilton Anatole.

The details of the off-site event are still being kept quiet under lock and key. But here is what I can share (don't tell anybody where you heard it): it will be a fun location near Dallas that can hold about a thousand people. It will probably have a big Texan theme and offer enough different activities to satisfy a variety of personalities.  

Myself, I am rooting for a rip-roaring rodeo with a Texas barbeque.

I would not be surprised if there is boot-scooting music involved (not to mention a photo opportunity between you and a big steer!). 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Summit 2011 Give-Away

If you were at Information Builders' Summit 2010 in Orlando, Florida, you may remember that Partner Intelligence gave away a pair of Bose headphones.

For this year's event in Dallas, Texas, we chose what I think is another great prize: an Amazon Kindle 3 electronic book reader.

I actually bought one for myself just to make sure we were making the right decision!

To be eligible to win, just stop by the Partner Intelligence booth in the vendor area sometime between Monday, June 13th, and Wednesday, June 15th, and sign one of our registration slips.

You cannot miss us; you will pass our booth not only as you look for the Welcome Reception's open bar but also everyday as you head for the breakfast and lunch buffet lines. So when you think of free drinks and food, think of Partner Intelligence (but only during the Summit; otherwise, it should be "when you think of BI, think of PI"). 

We will randomly pick the lucky winner at the end of the user conference event. I am thinking that it could very well be you!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Reflections on Life in the Cloud

If you are interested in web-enabled applications using data stored in the cloud, see an article on my general BI blog

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

WebFOCUS Difference Between DEFINE and COMPUTE

If you have ever interviewed for a WebFOCUS developer position, you have heard this: "What is the difference between DEFINE and COMPUTE?"  It is a simple question, but surprisingly there are many who cannot articulate a good response.

This question serves the same purpose as the college English 101 class. It immediately knocks out people who should not even be sitting in the room.

Both DEFINE and COMPUTE are phrases used in the WebFOCUS 4GL computer language to perform  calculations. These are robust commands that can be logical (IF-THEN-ELSE phrase), mathematical (such as calculating percentages), comparisons, or calls to other programs (such as user-written subroutine).

So if both do calculations, why are there two of them?

When you create a calculation using the DEFINE statement, WebFOCUS will perform it on every record that meets your selection criteria (an IF or WHERE test). So if you have one million sales transactions and are aggregating them by month, the DEFINE calculation will happen one million times.

On the other hand, WebFOCUS performs the COMPUTE calculations only after its sorting and aggregation steps have finished. So WebFOCUS would first sum your one million records into twelve months and then perform the COMPUTE twelve times.

The DEFINE happens on every detail database record while the COMPUTE is on each aggregated result line. Your next question is, when would you use one over the other?

The common response deals with efficiencies. If you can get the same results performing a calculation one million times versus doing it just twelve times, you want to use the one with the least amount of work involved. That makes your BI reports run faster and more efficiently.

Another common but less valid response is: "if you get the same results either way, just always use DEFINE." That is the non-thinking person's answer.

The real answer is you use either COMPUTE or DEFINE when you must. Sometimes, you must be at the detail record level in order to perform a calculation. Sometimes, you must work with the aggregated values.

One example would involve percentages. You can never calculate ratios and then add them together (at least, not if you want to show correct figures).

Take these three students, their individual grades, and their very small class total:

  • Bob: 24 out of 25 questions (24/25 = 96%)
  • Ted: 23 out of 25 questions (23/25 = 92%)
  • Sue: 20 out of 25 questions (20/25 = 80%)
  • Class Total: 67 out of 75 (67/75 = 89.3%)

If you were to just sum the three detail averages to get a class total, you would get 268% (96% + 92% + 80%), which is not correct. Therefore, you would not use a DEFINE statement to calculate these percentages and then sum them together--you would get the wrong ratio.

Instead, you could use a COMPUTE phrase to summarize the details by class and then calculate the results. The COMPUTE will provide you with the summary figures of 67 divided by 75 for the right ratio of 89.3%.

Of course, handling this single interview topic properly will not get you that WebFOCUS job. It will, however, give you a chance to answer more than one question. 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Press Release: New Strategic Relationship with WebFOCUS Vendor

NEW YORK, NY – March 30, 2011 – Information Builders, an independent leader in operational business intelligence (BI) solutions today announced that Partner Intelligence, a full service BI and data warehouse solutions company, is expanding its role as an Information Builders' Solution partner. Partner Intelligence will continue recommending and implementing WebFOCUS, Information Builders' comprehensive business analytics platform, in customer situations while also tapping the solution to help organizations modernize their existing BI applications.
Information Builders and Partner Intelligence began working together four years ago. Partner Intelligence was already successful, implementing WebFOCUS to Information Builders' new customers while expanding the platform's use with existing customers. Under the terms of this new agreement, Partner Intelligence will now market WebFOCUS to its customer base to dramatically reduce the time, cost, and risk of implementing web-based business intelligence. Partner Intelligence selected WebFOCUS as its BI tool of choice because of its vast experience with the platform and successful joint implementations at organizations like Wendy's/Arby's Group Inc., where it used WebFOCUS to implement an enterprise dashboard, and the State of Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS), where the company had automated a legacy reporting system conversion into WebFOCUS.
"When I engaged Partner Intelligence to do a major project to convert hundreds of production jobs into WebFOCUS, it seemed like an unattainable undertaking," explained Richard Smith, IT manager at OKDHS. "Not only was I wrong, but it was one of the smoothest projects on which I have had the pleasure of working in years. If you need to convert code, then Partner Intelligence is the company you need to work with!"
"Partner Intelligence provided expertise and skill to get our enterprise dashboard up and running quickly, enhancing functionality and giving our management a clear line of sight into the company's metrics," said Dave Ascah, vice president, IT Enterprise Solutions at Wendy's/Arby's Group.
Doug Lautzenheiser, general manager of Partner Intelligence, said: "We are excited to expand our relationship with Information Builders and the range of capabilities we can offer around WebFOCUS. Organizations looking to replace legacy reporting systems or implement enterprise BI dashboards will benefit from this new partnership."
"Partner Intelligence has had success automating complex conversions of legacy technologies into WebFOCUS," said Gerald Cohen, president and CEO of Information Builders. "Our customers are quite happy with Partner Intelligence's capabilities and we are pleased with the partnership. With our new agreement, we're making it even easier for Partner Intelligence's clients to implement web-based, enterprise business intelligence."
About Partner Intelligence
Partner Intelligence is the BI practice of Partner Professional Staffing. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, Partner Professional Staffing is a full-service professional services firm, offering a variety of recruiting, staff augmentation, and project-based consulting services. Partner Intelligence provides clients with consultative services, specializing in strategic BI advice, BI application development, and automated BI system conversions.
About Information Builders
Information Builders provides software and services that bring smarter decision-making and streamlined processes to leading organizations in business, government, and education worldwide. The company's software is installed in tens of thousands of locations, servicing millions of users. Its WebFOCUS business intelligence (BI) platform delivers massively scalable information applications, analytics, and customer-facing portals to the new generation of information users to deliver game-changing business results. Its iWay Software integration platform allows enterprises to leverage all of their information resources to streamline internal and business-to-business processes while escalating the overall accessibility and integrity of information regardless of environmental complexity. Headquartered in New York City with 60 offices worldwide, the company employs 1,350 people and has established significant industry partnerships. Visit Information Builders at For ongoing news, go to or follow Information Builders at @infobldrs.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Might HP Acquire BI Vendors?

See a recent post on my general BI blog if you are interested in the mergers and acquisitions within the Business Intelligence software industry. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

IBI Summit 2011 Sneak Peaks

What, you cannot travel to Dallas for IBI's annual users group conference--Summit 2011--in June?

Don't fret, you may still be in luck and able to see the presentations. In fact, you might be able to get a free sneak peak even before the paying attendees.

Many of the local Information Builders user groups are hosting events in the next few months where the Summit presenters can do an initial dry-run of their material.

Take a look at IBI's schedule of events for more details.

Local WebFOCUS Presenters at IBI Summit 2011 in Dallas

Several companies local to Partner Intelligence's headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, will present at Information Builders' Summit 2011 in Dallas.

Below is a quick summary of the Midwest WebFOCUS customers who will be at IBI's annual users conference in June:

Ad Hoc Reporting Delivered!

Chris Byrne, Paycor, Cincinnati, OH
Tuesday 9:45AM - 10:45AM
Ever wanted ad hoc reporting? At Paycor, we've crafted a unique reporting solution using WebFOCUS, web services, and ASP.NET. This presentation explores how these technologies interact to create an intuitive, easy to use web application, giving our users the power to make the report they want with a few simple clicks.

Where In the Universe Is My Data and How Can I Get It?

Jeralee Seaburn, Hercules Tire & Rubber Company, Findlay, OH
Tuesday 2:45PM - 3:45PM
Hercules Tire, a wholesale tire distributor based out of Findlay, Ohio, recently embarked on an initiative to provide data to its sales team in an effort to get them the right information at the right time and continue to provide excellent customer service. Hercules has a unique enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with a flat, multi-valued database structure (Universe), which presented some unique challenges, and benefits, for the WebFOCUS implementation team. This case study will address some of those issues and showcase the Guided Ad-Hoc tool we developed to provide critical data to our internal users in a much easily managed and understood format.

A University's Approach to Data Transfer Using DataMigrator

Gayle DeGennaro, Franklin University, Columbus, OH 
Wednesday 11:00AM - 12:00PM
Franklin University has successfully used iWay's DataMigrator to move financial and student information between three different database systems. This presentation will explore the university's approach as well as tips and techniques used to ensure success.

Dynamic Dashboards: A Data and Presentation Partnership

Rob Fosnaugh, Brotherhood Mutual Insurance, Fort Wayne, IN
Tuesday 8:30AM - 9:30AM
This session will show how a dashboard was created using a combination of dynamic staging tables, SQL, and WebFOCUS. This method can be used to create a usable way to view more than 40 insurance book-management elements all in one screen (at the agent, agency, state, region, and countrywide levels) while also comparing current metrics to previous demographic levels and over time. Topics will include data staging methodology, HTML Builder dashboard page design, WebFOCUS report design, parameter passing into SQL and WHERE statements, as well as exploring extensibility of the model.

If you come to Dallas in June, be sure to attend the presentations listed above. Also, stop by the Partner Intelligence booth, say hello, and register for our free give-away. Like last year, we are a proud Platinum Sponsor of IBI's big event. 

About Me

My photo

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.