Saturday, December 22, 2012

Huge Ground-Floor Opportunity for WebFOCUS Professional

Are you ready to use your Business Intelligence talents for a wealth-building opportunity?

We are looking for the right creative person with solid WebFOCUS skills to help build a SaaS client-facing information portal. This is a well-backed start-up venture where leaders will have equity rights.

In addition to your technical abilities, you will need pre-sales and communication skills in order to work with the management and sales teams promoting the application. 

The right person will be a BI architect with the ability to do hands-on work while leading a team of developers. Skills and experience in the following technologies are needed: 

  • Project management 
  • Dashboard User Intelligence design and development
  • Database design and development 
  • WebFOCUS Developer Studio 
  • WebFOCUS BI Dashboard/BI Portal 
  • WebFOCUS 4GL 
  • WebFOCUS Data Migrator ETL 
  • WebFOCUS Managed Reporting Security 
  • SaaS cloud topics (e.g., multi-tenant security and architecture)
  • DHTML, JavaScript, and JQuery 
  • Enterprise Relational SQL and Big Data NoSQL databases 


Contact me ASAP if you are interested: Doug underscore Lautzenheiser at Yahoo dot com. 

WebFOCUS is the enterprise BI product of Information Builders.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Using Word Clouds to Analyze Legacy BI Applications

If you have end-user reporting applications on the mainframe, some of them may have been around for decades. More than likely, the original coders have long ago retired and few people today can explain what these applications are doing.

I decided to add some visualization to shed light on legacy applications' inner secrets. Here is a word cloud generated from the keywords found inside a legacy FOCUS 4GL application:
After scanning the legacy libraries, I used the R statistical programming language to create a word cloud.

Somebody with an understanding of the FOCUS language can decipher this word cloud and quickly see that this application runs on a mainframe computer (e.g., the DYNAM commands) using green-screen technologies (e.g., the -CRTFORM and PFKEY commands). It is primarily a mainframe reporting application (the TABLE command) using menu navigation screens.

What is unusual is the big CASE keyword, which is a MODIFY database maintenance feature to provide procedural branching.

In this word cloud, the MODIFY count is small, the CRTFORM count is slightly bigger, and the CASE count is relatively large. Without looking, my first hunch is that somebody used the old IBI MODIFYTALK facility to automatically generate an add/update/delete online transaction application. That 1980s tool was notorious for generating a lengthy routine with lots of CASE logic.

In addition to the keywords, I could also do a word cloud of the actual database tables being accessed. If I needed more detail, I could also do word clouds for the columns of particular tables.

Since I'm a visual guy, this seems much nicer to me than looking at a spreadsheet or tabular report of numbers.

Of course, this type of visual analysis is not limited to the FOCUS product from Information Builders. It could be done for the other 4GLs (NOMAD and RAMIS) or reporting tools such as SAS, QMF/SQL, Crystal Reports, etc.

There is no reason you should not understand your legacy reporting applications.

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

Here are some other links: 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Approaching Deadline for IB Summit 2013

Your window of opportunity to speak at Information Builder's annual user group in Orlando, Florida, in 2013 is quickly closing.

To be selected as a presenter, you must provide IBI with a fifty-word abstract as part of a call for papers. The deadline is just a week away: November 30th. Go here for instructions on how to fill out a simple form that is found here.

All you need at this point is a quick summary of your topic. You still have several months to actually create the material. The event is scheduled for the first week of June 2013 and you do not need to provide finalized slides until sometime around early May.

While there is no guarantee IBI will select me, here is what I submitted:

Understanding BI in 60 Minutes (or Less)

For two decades, Doug has created complex BI applications for a variety of industries. A veteran of Information Builders, Doug first presented at the 1992 event. Now, Doug offers "speed-training" to learn BI in just one sitting. Doug will cover the important topics as well as emerging trends (e.g. Big Data and Predictive Analytics). Afterwards, you will be able to discuss BI like a top industry expert.


Give it a try. Perhaps we will see each other in the Green Room. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

IBI Wants You to Present at Summit 2013

Information Builders has announced that their annual iWay and WebFOCUS users group event--Summit 2013--will be held again in Orlando, Florida, at the Rosen Centre Hotel.

The event will be held from Monday, June 3rd, through Friday, June 7th.

Information Builders would like YOU to present at what could be their most-attended event ever (considering that they are, according to Mark Smith of Ventana Research, the Hottest BI Vendor in the World!). In exchange for presenting, Information Builders will waive your registration fee.

I think Orlando is a great location for the event since Information Builders can take advantage of local theme parks for offsite events. While I also look forward to staying at the Rosen Centre again, my fondest memories of Summit 2006 are from Charley's Steak House just down the street. Be sure to ask your IBI sales rep to take you there for a free steak dinner!

See Information Builders' Summit website for more information. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Succeeding with WebFOCUS Skills

In a recent general BI blog, I discussed the TIOBE study showing today's demand for hot programming languages (see it here). I also pointed out a nice eWeek summary of the same study and it is worthwhile to take a look at it here.

But what, you ask, does this have to do with Information Builders' enterprise BI product WebFOCUS?

Well, the reality of today's marketplace is that just having WebFOCUS as a skill may not keep you employed.

Instead, you need to combine WebFOCUS with other in-demand technologies such as SQL, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and web development tool kits like JQuery. Any employable WebFOCUS BI professional needs to possess this cluster of enterprise web application development abilities.

But that is just the starting point. Today's clients are trying to do more with less and keep up with rapidly changing technologies and market events. Your clients or employer will look to you to participate in meeting a variety of needs--other than in just a single software product such as WebFOCUS--which provides you with career opportunities to become involved with many information technologies.

Common examples would be the standard C-based programming languages of C/C++, Java, C#, and Objective-C, which are all in demand. You also have the sizzling web languages: PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby.

Make sure you are seated before you read any farther.

Seated? Okay, now check out this job trend comparing WebFOCUS to the C languages. That black line across the bottom at the zero percentage is the market demand for WebFOCUS developers. Compare that trend line with the other in-demand programming skills.



Here is a graph comparing WebFOCUS to JavaScript:


Some languages like Objective-C are experiencing an exponential power curve in demand. Others, like JavaScript shown above, have a strong linear demand that is being reinforced by emerging improvements such as HTML5 to support mobile devices.

If the market demand for JavaScript is five times that for WebFOCUS, then companies are going to expect you to know JavaScript when they ask you to build WebFOCUS web front-ends.

Nobody should try to label me as negative just because I point out there is a flat demand for WebFOCUS. There's definitely a niche market out there and you can make a good living specializing in it.

And please don't take me wrong. I'm not trying to tell anybody to give up on their hard-earned WebFOCUS expertise.

My point is that your ticket to success comes from combining WebFOCUS with other hot technologies. With today's employment circumstances, there is no longer a "should;" it has essentially become a "must." 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

IBI Versus IBM WebFOCUS

Quite frequently, people come to my blog searching for information on IBM's WebFOCUS.

OK, there is some confusion here. ...let's do a backstory...

For much of its history, Information Builders Inc. was known as IBI. A sales rep from Information Builders joked once to me that if he went into a big company and told the receptionist he was from IBI, that person would typically call the executive and say, "IBM is here to see you."

For awhile, IBI was probably okay with being confused with IBM.

Today, they are known as Information Builders. The old IBI moniker is, well, old.

Many of my blog readers seem to be confused as to who owns WebFOCUS. Information Builders does, but just to add a quirk to this, IBM does resell WebFOCUS on their mid-range box under a different name: "DB2 Web Query."

In addition to the similar acronyms, another source of confusion could be Information Builders' heritage as a Big Blue mainframe software vendor. IBM provided the hardware, operating system, and databases and IBI provided the software on top of that.

That partnership worked for decades, but IBM changed the game when they acquired Cognos and became Information Builders' direct BI software competitor. IBM put it again to Information Builders when they bought SPSS, at the time the statistical software partner for WebFOCUS (forcing IBI to switch to the open-source R product).

Despite all of this, there must still be some type of "coopetition" between the two software vendors.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

WebFOCUS 8 Released on 2012 October 9th

The big day has arrived. We first heard about WebFOCUS 8 in 2010 and have been anxiously awaiting its arrival. Information Builders announced today that release 8.0.01 is now generally available.

Important features of WebFOCUS 8 include:
  • Active Technologies using HTML5 and JavaScript
  • Unified Architecture and New Security Model
  • Migration Tools to upgrade from WebFOCUS 7.6 and 7.7
  • Business Intelligence Portal to replace the BI Dashboard 
  • Tools Consolidation and Unification of User Interfaces for ribbon-style GUIs
  • Lots of enhancements and improvements to existing features such as: 
    • InfoAssist End-User Ad Hoc tool
    • Mobile BI for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices 
    • Reporting Server Core Technology and Adapters
    • RESTful Web Services API and Adapter
    • DataMigrator
    • Developer Studio
    • Magnify output feature for easier integration with WebFOCUS and Search
    • New RStat applications


The announcement does talk about "Developer Studio" instead of calling it "Application Studio" as IBI had announced at Summit 2012. I also noticed that support statements and other types of documentation still use the old name, so I will have to investigate where the proposed new "Application Studio" moniker has gone.

10/11/12 Update: Glance at IBI's formal list of products and you will see it includes an active link to the Developer Studio page, but the Application Studio link is inactive with a comment of "Coming Soon" implying that WebFOCUS 8 did not include the new Application Studio. It is quite possible that brand new component was the culprit delaying everything (we know that the Core Report Server 8 was ready to go and actually released as 7.7.04; we were waiting on some front-end pieces).

Later Update: Actually, WebFOCUS 8 may not really be available to the general public. Unlike other releases, you cannot just download a copy yourself from Information Builders' TechSupport site. Instead, there is a comment to call your local office to discuss getting the upgrade. This implies there is a "controlled" release of WebFOCUS 8 to existing customers. Why, you ask? Well, there must be something in the implementation process with which the vendor wants to help you. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gerry Cohen talks of Starting Information Builders

In a recent interview, Gerry Cohen talked about the driving force for starting Information Builders in 1975.

Basically, he and his co-founders saw a business need to enable non-programmers to build BI reporting applications without the assistance of IT professionals.

Three decades ago, that was the FOCUS 4GL, where the 4GL was to be a replacement for 3GL programming languages such as COBOL. Today, the BI product for non-programmers is WebFOCUS.

That makes me wonder, is that why Information Builders is changing the name of their WebFOCUS IDE "Developer Studio" to become "Application Studio?" Do they want to get rid of the inference that "developers" are needed to build WebFOCUS BI solutions?

Having worked with IBI since 1983, I see a natural progression to have their intelligence products become more and more friendly to the power user community and less of an offering to IT professionals.

IBI may have been one of the first vendors to recognize that BI is in a strange boundary region situated somewhere between IT and business. People who specialize in Business Intelligence have to straddle the regions of technology and business, with no real place to call home.

To read the entire article, click here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

WebFOCUS Newsletter for 2012 September/October

Information Builders, the software vendor of the enterprise BI product WebFOCUS, just released their 2012 September/October newsletter of WebFOCUS topics.

In this issue, they cover:
  • Best Practices for Business Intelligence and Predictive Analytics
  • GIS: All About Symbols
  • Troubleshooting Mobile Faves Connections
  • WebFOCUS 8.0: Managed Reporting Migration
  • WebFOCUS Timeout Parameters
  • Windows IE Browser Mode, Compatibility View, and WebFOCUS IE Browser Support


For more information, see their website.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Central Parking System WebFOCUS Dashboard

Information Builders created a success story of our work building a WebFOCUS dashboard for Central Parking System in Nashville, TN. We made it easier for the parking lot company to see their key financial metrics.

You can read about it on IBI's website

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

WebFOCUS Tipping Point

It is quite obvious that "Web" is in front of "FOCUS" in the "WebFOCUS" enterprise BI product's name. This is the FOCUS 4GL that was re-created for an internet architecture.

Still, all along it has seemed to me that the "FOCUS" was more important than the "Web."

I am ready to say that in 2012 my worldview of WebFOCUS has changed. It has become clear to me that we recently hit a tipping point in WebFOCUS where the web technologies are more important than the FOCUS 4GL aspects.

Since the mid-1990s, Information Builders has been working on GUI tools that could automatically generate the FOCUS 4GL. They are near the point where they do such a great job that painting a sophisticated report is simple. Looking under the covers is almost unnecessary.

Their upcoming re-design of the Developer Studio IDE into the new-and-improved Application Studio is proof of that. That improvement comes after their great job in producing InfoAssist, a beautiful end-user ad hoc report writer that rivals that from competitors such as Business Objects, IBM Cognos, and MicroStrategy.

The new Application Studio is intended for IT professionals but is meant to resemble the easy-to-use InfoAssist.

With each new enhancement to its GUI tools, IBI has made building reports easier. What has become harder, however, is all of the web application development work needed in the overarching web solution. Information Builders is releasing the new BI Portal in WebFOCUS 8 which should address some of this.

However, today we are building many WebFOCUS dashboard applications by hand. That means a WebFOCUS developer must be an expert in dynamic HTML with JavaScript and cascading style sheets (CSS). That skill has become more important than knowing the underlying FOCUS 4GL.

It's not just sophisticated web portals and dashboards, but mobile applications as well. A web BI developer needs to be well versed in HTML5 while keeping an eye on native mobile app technologies such as Objective-C.

If you want to succeed as a WebFOCUS developer, place more importance on your web skills than on WebFOCUS itself. If you have been specializing in the FOCUS 4GL for decades, I know this is hard to hear.

Now is the time to view your FOCUS 4GL skills as an old favorite tool to be stored away in your technology shed. Hang it on a peg on the back wall where you can get to it if you need but, by all means, stop wearing it on your belt. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Life as a WebFOCUS Specialist

From the sidelines, I have been watching an online forum conversation started by a gentleman named Larry about the seemingly low hourly rates offered for WebFOCUS BI developers. Today, I decided to respond with, I hope, minimal backlash. Here are my personal opinions: 

Against my better judgment, I will add my thoughts on the current status of the WebFOCUS services market. 

We all realize that while Information Builders was the leader in the 4GL market in the 1980s, they are one of the smaller players in today's big BI market. Some customers like how IBI is privately held and innovative but most want the security of buying a big name like Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and IBM. 

Information Builders seems to be happy where it is and is organized to handle its $300 million in annual revenue where it has been for the past decade. It seems happy not becoming a multi-billion dollar BI giant. It is like the corner pizza shop with a cult following with no desire of becoming the next big Pizza Hut in the mass market. If this is a hobby and a lifestyle for the owner, there is nothing wrong with the approach. 

The job market has lower demands for a small software vendor's products; there is less respect which translates to lower wages for practitioners. To Larry's point, that can mean lost opportunity costs for WebFOCUS people. You might personally be losing money specializing in WebFOCUS instead of in a product from one of the market leaders. It could be a bad career choice. 

IBI is not just a software vendor; it has its own quasi-independent professional services firm. Most new customers will go the safe route and choose the vendor to do initial and difficult projects despite the high cost. After that, customers want to build their own internal expertise so as to not be held captive by vendors. Outside firms and independents competing against IBI services will only get the table scraps. If they really want to get in on the game, competitors must offer quality services at a much lower price. 

The WebFOCUS marketing message is that it is very easy. Customers get the idea that anybody can sit down at the screen and do it. Here enters the "McDonald's principle" of wages. If you can take any average Joe off the street and train him quickly to do a job, there is no reason to pay him more than minimum wage. You can always replace him with another when he complains about wages. Only when more experience and training is needed and it is harder to replace the person does the wage need to increase. 

WebFOCUS is an enterprise BI tool which means a practitioner needs to know lots of different things: platforms, databases, security, web application development, and so forth. I've heard this called being a "T-professional." Represented by the horizontal top of the T, you have a broad understanding of lots of things but no real in-depth knowledge. For the vertical part of the T, you have a deep understanding of one thing, which is WebFOCUS and (as we have seen) not highly respected in the marketplace. That is Larry's point of being paid less to do WebFOCUS and Oracle together than just Oracle work by itself; to make more money, you have to flip the T to be respected. 

The idea of 4GLs as viable development tools died in the early 1990s. Customers do not want to have to know a 4GL to build a web dashboard. They do not want to have 4GL coders on staff. 

WebFOCUS must hide the 4GL under the covers and IBI sales people only mention the code when it can be used in a positive difference from other products that don't have an underlying, accessible language. This general anti-4GL sentiment means WebFOCUS developers must be proficient with the GUI and only touch the 4GL code in rare instances behind a closed door. So even if you are a really great 4GL coder, you are forced to keep your mouth shut or be perceived as anachronistic trying to use technologies from decades ago. The market has no respect and no demand for 4GL coders. 

For all these reasons and more, there is a dearth of WebFOCUS professionals. Seize the day! 

To be truly successful, however, you should deepen your knowledge of enterprise business intelligence and web application development. Flip your T and go deep in technologies that are widely respected and in demand.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why not WebFOCUS 8 on 8/8?

I have to tell you that I am disappointed today. I was truly excited to see an early-morning Information Builders press release about WebFOCUS 8 being made available to the general public on August 8th.

You know, the 8th version of WebFOCUS announced on the 8th month and 8th day at the 8th hour?

I fully expected such cleverness. But it did not happen.

Instead, we are evidently waiting until the end of August (or perhaps even September) for WebFOCUS 8 to be released. Currently, it is still in beta testing with a select few customers.

For more information on WebFOCUS, click here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What's in WebFOCUS 8?

Many people have come to my blog looking for information on the new WebFOCUS 8 release that is due for general availability later this year (probably near the end of August or early September).

If you are available, you should tune in to Information Builders Technical Director Jim Thorstad's webinar on Wednesday, the 25th of July, to hear more about it. In particular, Jim will probably cover the major architectural change in the underlying named-user security model.

WebFOCUS 8 Technical Overview
Presented by Jim Thorstad, Information Builders
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 @ 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time
(1:00 - 2:30 p.m. Central Time; 12:00 - 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time;
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time)

WebFOCUS delivers the most comprehensive reporting solution available in the marketplace. This session will review the key architectural and security changes underlying WebFOCUS 8 and present the range of benefits and new features that these changes make possible. Whether you are new to WebFOCUS or migrating from a previous version, this presentation will be essential to your deployment planning.

You can register for Jim's presentation at this link.

In addition to the new security model, here are some other things of interest coming out in WebFOCUS 8:
  • HTML5 Visualization 
  • New BI Portal (to replace the BI Dashboard product)
  • New Application Studio (to replace the WebFOCUS Developer Studio IDE)
  • Consistent ribbon user interfaces across all products (and the retirement of older ones)
  • Multi-Tenant administration for WebFOCUS SaaS deployments 

WebFOCUS Personal Development Environments


If you are not familiar with the concept of having multiple images of WebFOCUS, see this blog posting. Typically, companies will have a chain of "promotable" instances for software development:
  • Development: where the developers can have an isolated work area
  • Testing: where developers don't interrupt the business/IT testers
  • Production QA (AKA PQA, User Acceptance Testing, UAT): where business users can test in a clean environment
  • Production: where everything always works 

In an ideal situation, each of these images is almost identical to the others. That makes promoting work from one to the other cleaner. If your BI application worked in one, it should work in the next. 

Some companies use the WebFOCUS Developer Studio as a "Personal Development Environment." Instead of (or perhaps in addition to) having a stand-alone environment for Development, coders can build applications on their personal machine and then promote them later. In this way, there will be no conflict with other developers or testers. 

This means that each developer needs to install a complete WebFOCUS environment:
  • WebFOCUS Report Server 
  • WebFOCUS Client web tier
  • WebFOCUS Developer Studio 
  • Database adapters (which require credentials to access the data) 
  • Optional components (e.g., Distribution Server, ReportCaster, InfoAssist, R Stat, etc.)

Each developer also needs a personal web server and Java app server. He or she probably also needs drivers and security rights to directly access the BI databases. 

I am not a proponent of using this "localhost" environment as a personal development environment which would then be promoted into the "real" corporate environment. Rarely is the developer's personal computer setup like the corporate WebFOCUS environments, meaning that promoting from one to the other is prone to error and frustration, wasting everybody's time. 

The full Developer Studio product with the localhost environment costs more. Instead, you could forego the localhost features and pay a thousand dollars less. 

Setting up database credentials on a personal computer could also lead to security issues. 

If you ignore my recommendation and still go this route, you will probably run into one particular little issue that tends to pop up. 

Once you get the web components installed and Developer Studio setup for a local development environment, you may still get an error when you try to start your own WebFOCUS Report Server. You might see this error message: user xxx is not authorized to start Workspace Manager.


To fix this, find the administrative configuration file that should be at: C:\ibi\srv77\home\bin\admin.cfg (my example here uses the Windows WebFOCUS 7.7 release, so change this to correspond to your implementation). 

Note: if you are using a "temporary" Report Server that runs only when Developer Studio is being used (you did not install a real WFRS), then your administration configuration file will instead be here: C:\ibi\DevStudio77\srv77\profiles\admin.cfg. 

Within this file, add yourself as an administrator. For example:

admin_id = COMPANYDOMAIN\youruserid
BEGIN
  admin_level = SRV
END


Try to start the server again and it should work. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Digging Deeper into the FOCUS Language

Even though I have been using the FOCUS language since the 1980s (by the way, I intend to stop telling people how long it has been), I always seem to run across little quirks that stop me in my tracks and make me say, "I've never seen that before!"

Today it happened again while developing a new redundancy analysis for FOCUS applications. The BI Analyzer already had a feature for scanning SQL-based applications to find redundant reports, but for some reason we had never gotten around to building the same capabilities for FOCEXECs, the FOCUS programs.

Redundancy analysis is actually a very useful feature when you consider the history of end-user reporting tools such as the FOCUS 4GL.

Companies who purchased FOCUS decades ago turned it loose among the end users who then each started building computer applications on his or her own. Today, these companies are left with libraries full of legacy code that might be doing the exact same thing as other systems. Out of one thousand different reports, there may in reality only be about a dozen core reports and then lots of minor variations.

The BI Analyzer finds and groups all of those redundant reports, identifying them for consolidation during a modernization effort.

About seven years ago, while modernizing a financial services company's NOMAD 4GL legacy applications into WebFOCUS, I realized that the FOCUS language would not let you reformat a column being used for sorting. NOMAD could do that, but FOCUS and WebFOCUS could not. Strange. 

For example, in the FOCUS language you can specify a BY phrase to sort data by columns:

SUM RETAIL_COST 
BY COUNTRY 
BY CAR 
BY MODEL 

The display formats of these columns come from the underlying metadata instructions. So RETAIL_COST might have instructions associated with it to display as a number with five digits to the left of a decimal point and two to the right, along with commas. But the default rules might not say to put a dollar sign in there and that is what you want. 

In that case, inside the report logic you can override the metadata's default formatting and add your own instructions:

SUM RETAIL_COST/D9.2M 
BY COUNTRY 
BY CAR 
BY MODEL 

By putting a forward slash after the column name and some formatting commands of "D9.2M," I can make this decimal column bigger and add a dollar sign. 

The NOMAD language is (was) very similar to FOCUS and allowed you do this same type of formatting on the sort columns. So the BI Transformer (our software for translating legacy reporting applications into modern BI equivalents) tried to generate a replica for WebFOCUS like this:

SUM RETAIL_COST 
BY COUNTRY 
BY CAR 
BY MODEL/A12 

Surprisingly, FOCUS does not understand this reformatting on the BY sort columns. I shrugged, implemented a work-around, and moved on with the project. 

Today, I stumbled across some legacy code that looked like this:

SUM RETAIL_COST 
BY COUNTRY/C
BY CAR/C  
BY MODEL/C 

Wait, that can't be right! I've never seen that before. 

After some testing, I realized this was a little-used FOCUS feature--at least, I've only seen it once in three decades--for formatting not the sort column but its page title. 

You can Center, Left-Justify, and Right-Justify the titles. Here is another code example along with its PDF output:

SUM RETAIL_COST 
BY COUNTRY/L
BY CAR/R
BY MODEL/C


In the example above, I told FOCUS to left-justify the County title, right-justify the Car title, and center the title for the Model. 

Of course, in today's WebFOCUS environment you have at your disposal inline WebFOCUS stylesheets and HTML cascading stylesheets. This little FOCUS language trick is pretty arcane.

Still, it is always interesting to look into the history of the FOCUS language and understand what is going on under the covers.  Drop me a line the next time you stumble across something in the FOCUS language that makes you say, "Wait, that can't be right!"


If you are interested in more information about the core FOCUS 4GL, click here

Monday, July 9, 2012

What is the Difference Between FOCUS and WebFOCUS?


A common question I see in my blog statistics is, "What is the difference between FOCUS and WebFOCUS?"

We have to go back in time for the answer. In the late 1970s, the new software vendor Information Builders began offering a “fourth-generation computer programming language” to IT organizations as a replacement for COBOL application development (which was considered to be one of the third generation). 

This "FOCUS" language did everything that COBOL could do, just with fewer lines of code. Common, repetitive coding tasks were automated so that the programmer did not have to bother with them anymore. 

The problem was, corporate coders had little desire to stop using COBOL. Making their jobs simpler and faster was not high on their list of priorities. 

However, IT management did see value in offloading end-user reporting requests to their counterparts on the business side of the house. In the 1980s, FOCUS gained widespread usage as a simple, end-user reporting tool. 

This was not the only 4GL trying to get into corporate IT shops. Information Builders had to beat out the 4GL competitors RAMIS and NOMAD. 

Information Builders created multiple versions of the FOCUS 4GL, made specifically for different computer platforms such as MVS, VM/CMS, VAX/VMS, Wang, Tandem, UNIX, and so forth. They also built almost any kind of database interface imaginable; IMS, IDMS, TOTAL, SQL/DS, Datacom, Model 204, Non-Stop SQL, etc. You name a database, Information Builders built an adapter for it.

In addition to supporting various databases as input, Information Builders added FOCUS support for all sorts of output formats. You could generate files in relational databases, flat files, FOCUS BDAM structures, word processing, Excel, and many others.    

In the mid-1990s, Information Builders was enhancing FOCUS to have an HTML output format. It became obvious that, not only could FOCUS generate web content, it could also use this new format as an input mechanism. They went on to create a web-based architecture where input and output to FOCUS could be done through a browser. 

Based on that innovation, Information Builders released an alternative for FOCUS called WebFOCUS, which is built upon the FOCUS 4GL processor.   In fact, the vendor in recent years has been able to consolidate these two products into a single code base.  The product is fairly portable and independent of any particular operating system. 

While FOCUS was a computer language hand-coded by the end users and IT developers, the WebFOCUS product suite contains a graphical development environment that automatically generates the underlying code. You can still get to the 4GL code, but the idea is to let the GUI tools generate it automatically. 

The FOCUS product was used both interactively and in batch.  From dumb terminals, online users could communicate with application menus and screens or go directly to a line command processor for simple ad-hoc requests.  FOCUS programs could also be run using JCL or other batch control mechanism with parameters passed in or determined by the program itself.

While there are ways for the WebFOCUS code to be run from batch processes such as MVS JCL and Micro Focus Enterprise Server, the scheduling mechanism probably preferred by Information Builders is their ReportCaster/Distribution Server suite. 

There are two three broad components of the FOCUS 4GL, the first being a non-procedural language for reporting, graphing, analysis, and maintaining data.  Next is 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. 

Another important component of both FOCUS and WebFOCUS is the metadata and adapter layer, which hides the complexity of the underlying data structures, allowing developers and end users to create applications while having minimal knowledge of how to actually access the data. 

Most of the FOCUS 4GL features are still available within WebFOCUS but, of course, any "green-screen" features are gone. Information Builders has been very creative and added many new features onto WebFOCUS that would have never been possible with FOCUS.  

Today, Information Builders probably does not sell much of its host-based FOCUS 4GL. Instead, most of their product sales come from the WebFOCUS BI product and their iWay Software enterprise integration products (some of which are basically the underlying nuts and bolts of WebFOCUS). 

Back in the early 1990s, many companies told me that they were dictating a ban on building FOCUS applications. While new development may have stopped, many large companies (typically with mainframes) still have legacy FOCUS applications. Five years ago, Partner Intelligence was founded based on software tools to simplify the modernization of these legacy FOCUS applications into WebFOCUS.  

If you have any other questions about the difference between FOCUS and WebFOCUS, please send me an e-mail. 

Best of Summit 2012 WebFOCUS Presentation


Are you tired of watching re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond? Maybe you see re-runs as a waste of your time.


Here are some "oldies but goodies" you want to catch: the re-presentation of Information Builders' best sessions from their annual users conference Summit 2012 in Orlando.

Later this week on Thursday, July 12th, at 2PM Eastern, Walter Blood will re-share "More Hidden Gems in the World of Reporting." A graduate of Harvard, Walter has been with Information Builders for as long as I can remember. 

Here is Walter's agenda summary: 

More Hidden Gems in the World of Reporting
Presented by Walter Blood, Information Builders
Thursday, July 12, 2012 @ 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time
(1:00 - 2:30 p.m. Central Time; 12:00 - 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time; 
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time) 

WebFOCUS is a very deep product, with powerful functionality that is sometimes hidden. This session will uncover some hidden gems in the areas of selecting data, building powerful expressions, and producing unique outputs. What is the value of making your data selection part of your connection? What can analytical functions give you? If the structure of your data is important, how can you retain it in the output? These and other questions will be explored in detail.


To register for this free online event, click here. You'll love it. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thanks to Partner Intelligence Summit 2012 Team

I want to thank the individuals who helped work Information Builders' Summit 2012 in Orlando.

With over one thousand attendees interested in BI software application development, we could not have handled all of the questions without a full onsite Partner Intelligence team.

Here in the picture with me are Lou DiPaolo from Philadelphia, PA (on the left in the green shirt), Eric Bulmahn from Indianapolis, IN (in the blue shirt), and Marisa Guy from Chattanooga, TN (in the black shirt). Missing at the time of this photo opportunity was John Lewis from Columbus, Ohio.

Behind the scenes, our VP of Marketing Ben Dolan back at the Cincinnati corporate headquarters helped coordinate all of the small details as well as put out press releases.

Another key individual was Shawn Davies from Boomerang Design Group. Like in previous years, Shawn did a great job with brochures, signs, and other graphic material. Shawn's tri-fold helped explain Partner Intelligence's three main services of strategic BI advice, dashboard application development, and automated BI legacy modernization as well as provide a map of Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure for the fun offsite event.

It is truly a blessing to have such a great team representing the Partner Intelligence name. 

Summit 2012 IBI Winner of Kindle Fire

At last year's Summit, Partner Intelligence started a new tradition of raffling a special gift for one of the hard-working Information Builders conference staff.

This year at Summit 2012 in Orlando, David Glick from the New York product development group won a Kindle Fire. Here in the photo, David is accepting his free gift from Eric Bulmahn.

Congratulations, David!

Summit 2012 Winner of Kindle Fire

When we called his name, Howard from Chicago took the stage in front of the thousand people in Orlando at Information Builders' Summit 2012 and received from Eric Bulmahn a Kindle Fire.

Congratulations, Howard!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

See Wendy's QSR Metrics Dashboard


Next week at the Information Builders Summit 2012 users' conference in Orlando, Matt Chapin from The Wendy's Company will present the enterprise BI dashboard that Partner Intelligence helped to create. 

I don't want to steal Matt's thunder, but the Wendy's dashboard provides visual QSR metrics for everything you could think of for a restaurant, such as revenue, speed of service, food and labor costs, and cash register controls. From a high-level visual look at all of North America, a user can quickly drill down to a particular daypart for a store in Omaha, NE.  

Matt will explain how they used WebFOCUS to serve up fast enterprise data to thousands of users. You can see Matt's presentation at 8:30AM on Wednesday morning, the 6th of June. 

If you are unable to attend, you can download the Wendy's presentation from Information Builders' website. 

The Next Summit Winner Could Be You!

In 2010, Jaclyn from Indiana attended Information Builders' annual Summit user conference and went home with a new pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones.

Jaclyn is shown here accepting the prize from Eric Bulmahn. To read more, just click here.

In 2011, Kyle from Tennessee won a Kindle eReader. In this picture, Kyle is accepting the prize from Rick Koch. For more information, click here.

This year, wouldn't you like to see your name here?

To be eligible to win, just visit the Partner Intelligence booth at Summit 2012 and register. This year, Partner Intelligence's main prize is a Kindle Fire eReader. In addition, we are giving away $175 worth of Amazon gift cards at our presentation on Agile BI.

By reading this blog, you have taken the first step toward winning. You can discover a secret way to get an unfair advantage over others! To find out more, read this.

Note to Information Builders employees: last year, we had a special give-away for the IBIers staffing the event. The lucky winner was Lori Pieper of the Cincinnati branch sales office. That was our first year doing an IBI give-away, so very few of you entered to win. That meant it was easy for Lori to walk away with a free Kindle eReader. This year, you should give her some competition!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BI Experts Galore at IBI Summit 2012

Mark your calendar! Monday, June 4th, is THE day to hear the industry's top BI analysts talk about business intelligence software market trends and best practices.

If you attend Information Builders' Summit 2012 in Orlando, you can hear Boris Evelson of Forrester Research, Cindi Howson of BI Scorecard, Rita Sallam of Gartner, and Mark Smith of Ventana Research.

Gerry Cohen, co-founder and president of IBI, will kick off the day with the 8AM General Session. All of the industry analysts will join Gerry there for a panel discussion on current BI trends led by IBI Chief Marketing Officer Michael Corcoron.

You can be sure all of the popular buzzwords will be used: Big Data, Predictive, Analytics, Mobile, Social, Cloud, Collaborative, Visual, just to name a few (I dare you to make a checklist and tally the results).

Starting at 11AM on Monday, there will be breakout sessions with each of the BI experts. There is no overlap, so you never have to pick one person over another. Here is the agenda for Summit 2012's Strategic Management Track of BI industry analysts:

11:00AM Boris Evelson will present "Agile BI: Overview, Trends, and Best Practices"

1:30PM Cindi Howson will present "Best Practices for BI Success"

2:45PM Rita Sallam will present "Playing Moneyball: Leveraging Analytics to Win in Your Organization"

4:00PM Mark Smith will present "Top Ten Best Practices in Predictive Analytics and Big Data"


To get a mobile Summit 2012 agenda for your phone or tablet, click here. If you are an old-fashion person who likes to carry tangible pages, there is a printable agenda for you. Other formats are available as well at the main Agenda page.

Note: don't forget to be at my Agile BI presentation on Sunday afternoon at 3:15PM (you can just consider me the opening act).

What is an IBI Site Code?

A reader recently asked, "What is this Site Code that Information Builders wants?"

When you purchase software from Information Builders, they will assign you a four digit customer number. Of course, IBI sold software to over 9,999 companies so they started using alphanumeric characters in that code. For example, you might get assigned something like 99AB.

In addition to your customer number, the IBI site code has a two-digit software license code. The four digit customer number is separated from the two-digit license code with a period. So if you own the FOCUS 4GL, the WebFOCUS enterprise BI product, and the iWay integration software, you might have three site codes like 99AB.01, 99AB.02, and 99AB.03.

If you make licensing changes (e.g., changing from lease to direct purchase), IBI might sunset your original site code (like 99AB.03) and give you something new (like 99AB.13). It is also not impossible to get a completely different customer code.

Using a site code, you can log into IBI's TechSupport site and download software updates. If you do not have a TechSupport account, all you need to activate one is your site code and the name of your company as described on the software license. Go to this link to setup a new user account.

Legend has it that since the start of the company IBI has been keeping these numbers in a 1970s ledger book. Personally, I picture the scene from the Mission Impossible movie where the US Embassy has a highly secure room for storing the NOC list, but perhaps IBI is not that fancy.

If you have any other questions, just let me know. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Partner Intelligence Moves to Sunday!

Partner Intelligence has moved!

Not in the sense that you must change your address book, but you will need to update your calendar.

A week ago, I blogged that my presentation at Information Builders' Summit 2012 would take place on Monday. Well, change is in the air. My session has been moved to a new track, date, and time.

To see my presentation on Avoiding Big BI Blunders, you will need to be at Summit on Sunday, June 3rd, by 3:15PM Eastern.

I'm pleased in at least one sense since this agenda modification takes me out of a negative situation. Had I spoken on Monday, I would have competed for audience members against Mark Smith of Ventana Research.

It's great for you too, since you are now free on Monday 2:45PM to see Mark's presentation on the Top Ten Best Practices in Predictive Analytics and Big Data

Despite no longer going head-to-head with Mark, my Sunday slot is not perfect.

For one thing, my scheduled flight to Orlando doesn't even arrive in time. If most Summit guests are like me, they see Sunday as a travel day. In fact, I have a hunch that most consider their first mandatory event as being the 7PM Welcome Reception's free bar.

So to give you an added incentive to fit my presentation into your plans, I am prepared to offer you a significant bribe.

Free! Free! Free!

You may have already heard that Partner Intelligence will give away an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet to one lucky Summit guest. At my Sunday presentation, I will let you sneak in an additional entry for that drawing!

But wait, there's more!

If you attend my educational yet fun session, you can register to win one of three prizes that I will give away that same hour. At the beginning of the session, I will randomly draw one attendee's name and give that lucky person a $25 Amazon gift card (not just an ordinary card, either!).

Then, in the middle of the session I will break to draw another name for a second Amazon gift card, this time worth $50!

At the end while you are filling out your appraisal form as to how great the presentation was, I will give one lucky person a $100 Amazon gift card! It might be you!

You must be there to win!

I hope you are motivated enough by blatant self-promoting bribes to join me on Sunday, June 3rd, at 3:15PM, at the Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee, FL. Not only will you learn about Agile BI Application Development Best Practices, but you will gain an unfair advantage over hundreds of other people to win an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet and perhaps even win big Amazon gift cards.

If you are less open to gratuitous enticements, perhaps you will attend just to learn how to improve your career by running successful BI application development projects. That works too.   

Monday, April 30, 2012

Take a Flat Friend to IBI Summit 2012 (Flat Gerry, that is)

Information Builders doesn't limit innovation and creativity to just producing software products like WebFOCUS.

No, they even apply it to their annual users' group conferences.

Jake Freivald, VP of Marketing, announced today a special "Flat Gerry" theme in preparation to IBI sending each Summit attendee a special gift in the mail. 

If you are attending the iWay and WebFOCUS annual event in June, you probably got this message from Jake: 
Flat Stanley, Jeff Brown’s popular children’s book is about a young boy who is flattened by a bulletin board. But he discovers some real advantages to being flat: he can slide under doors, fit between sidewalk grates, and be mailed anywhere in the world for an exciting adventure.
"Not-So Flat Gerry"Well, there’s a new flat guy in town – Flat Gerry, a paper cutout of our CEO Gerry Cohen. And he’s coming to visit you soon in the US Mail.
While he’s your guest, we’d like you to produce a short video featuring Flat Gerry. 
You can show Flat Gerry learning about your organization and how you use our products. You can invite him to sit in on a team meeting. Heck, maybe he'd like to see the sights in your city!  All we ask is that you have fun and be creative. With permission, a selection of videos will be shown during the Summit 2012 keynote presentation.

Get your crayons and cameras ready!

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.