Friday, March 30, 2012

Adopting the Non-Coding Lifestyle

Moving from the FOCUS 4GL to the WebFOCUS BI product is more than just adopting new technology; it is a complete lifestyle change. 

In the old FOCUS 4GL world, developers used text editors to manually create applications. The idea behind WebFOCUS, however, is that developers will use GUI tools to automatically generate the underlying code. 

Many hardcore 4GL developers from the 1980s pooh-pooh this GUI idea and continue coding by hand, waiting for that retirement date to come around. Most new WebFOCUS customers do not understand this and demand that developers use the GUI tools. 

Of course, the Developer Studio is "THE GUI" for building WebFOCUS. Developers who refuse to use Information Builders's Developer Studio and instead muddle through WebFOCUS development using a third-party text editor such as UltraEdit have a serious need to find Doc Brown's DeLorean and go back to 1985.

To be more specific, when customers talk about the WebFOCUS "GUI," they are probably referring to the Developer Studio's HTML Composer and the Report Painter. 

Some WebFOCUS developers complain about the Report Painter. While it has come a long way in supporting Dialogue Manager (the procedural scripting and symbolic variable substitution magic that makes WebFOCUS so powerful), there are still issues with painting highly dynamic reports. 

Which is not exactly the Report Painter's fault; how can we expect it to display a report that will dynamically change layouts based on the user's run-time input? Not that it couldn't be done, but it would be tricky. 

The HTML Composer lets you design launch pages in a GUI WYSIWYG environment. As of release 7.7, no good WebFOCUS developer should even suggest manually writing his or her own HTML documents. It just isn't necessary and it is definitely not smart. 

And Information Builders is beginning to step forward with comments to that effort. A Partner Intelligence consultant was involved in a conversation between the New York help desk and a WebFOCUS customer. 

Here is what he told me:

"During the call, New York said that developers really should not change the HTML.  If developers do manually modify the HTML code, he said that IBI could refuse to help with any web page issues."

I suspect that the New York help desk person probably means that a developer should not monkey around with the HTML/XML document which the HTML Composer generates. I agree wholeheartedly (I might covertly not follow that mandate, but I support the philosophy). 

IBI's position probably comes from the fact that they are not happy helping people debug problems caused when these people manually changed auto-generated code. This is HTML/XML code that IBI does not think anybody should even bother to look at, much less change. 

This stance is similar to the notice on the back of most of your electronic devices: "Don't bother opening this. There is nothing inside that YOU can fix." 

Along with the HTML/XML, any modern web application is going to have JavaScript. Adding your own procedural scripting logic is perfectly fine; almost every interactive dashboard practically demands it. The New York technician would not have implied you can't add your own JavaScript. 

Along that point, however, there is also the standard IBI JavaScript engine that comes with the product. You will see it referenced in the generated HTML code as something like "ibirls3.js" where it means this is IBI Release 3 of their core JavaScript engine. 

You should not try to modify IBI's underlying JavaScript logic (you would lose your changes the next time you upgraded WebFOCUS anyway). You would have to be trying to implement a temporary stopgap to overcome a major problem if you decided to go down that route. 

IBI has never in the past documented the HTML/XML nor their underlying JavaScript engine. They are changing some of that now because they are running into pesky developers who peaked under the covers and strarted using undocumented JavaScript functions. 

As a result, IBI has come out with "public" functions which developers can use safely and will tell people to stay away from the "private" functions. Use of the undocumented functions is unsupported and applications written with them could stop working in the next upgrade (and the New York help desk person may tell you politely to take a hike--at least as politely as a New Yorker can say that type of thing). 

So here is how I see things. Use the GUI tools to generate as much as the code as possible (it's the 21st Century and companies decided against coding 4GL applications at the beginning of the 1990s). 

Here are some guidelines: 
  • Generated HTML/XML documents created by HTML Composer: do NOT manually edit
  • Standard IBI JavaScript engine that comes with the product: do NOT manually edit
  • Custom JavaScript that goes with generated HTML/XML document: add whatever logic you need, but don't reference private functions inside the IBI JavaScript engine
  • Generated Report logic from Report Painter: don't dismiss it entirely; try to develop with it so that the person after you can use a GUI tool 

As always, if you have any questions just contact me. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Be Our Guest at WebFOCUS Summit 2012

Like in previous years, I am offering to provide free of charge full-registration tickets for attending Information Builders' annual users group meeting. This year, the Summit is being held in Kissimmee, Florida, at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Conference Center.

Being a premier sponsor of the event, Partner Intelligence has a number of "guest" tickets. If you have never been to Summit in the past and do not have the budget to attend this year, perhaps I can help get you to this special event. You would still have to cover your own travel costs, but Partner Intelligence could take care of your conference attendance fee.

Summit is a once-a-year opportunity to see what your peers are doing with WebFOCUS enterprise Business Intelligence. Unlike other BI products such as IBM Cognos and Business Objects, WebFOCUS is a full application development environment where you can build anything you want. You can walk into any Cognos or BO shop and know what to expect when they show you their BI tools. At WebFOCUS shops, however, the developers were only limited by their imagination and skills; they could have created something totally extraordinary!

At Summit, you can also network with the product managers, executives, and technical leaders within Information Builders. Plus, you can meet with the team from Partner Intelligence!

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 our guest.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

IBI Redesigns Homepage to Reflect New Branding

Information Builders, the software vendor of the WebFOCUS enterprise Business Intelligence, has redesigned their homepage to reflect changes to their product marketing.

In the past, Information Builders had a separate company for their enterprise integration and data quality tools. IBI recently eliminated that legal entity and rolled it back into the main IB firm as just a brand.

As one change, the iWay Software site now takes you to Information Builders:

The main page ( now shows the vendor's software products grouped into three main pillars:

If you would like to learn more about IBI's product lines, be sure to attend their Summit annual users group conference in June 2012 in Orlando.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Midwest WebFOCUS Presenters at Summit 2012

Information Builders just finalized their agenda for the annual users group coming up in Orlando in June 2012.

Like in years past, the Midwest market is well represented (kind of like Ohio in the NCAA Sweet 16!). Eight of the speakers are coming from Indiana, Ohio, or Kentucky.

When you attend Summit, mark your calendar with these "must-see" sessions:

Considerations for Building a Secure, Scalable, Fault-Tolerant Architecture for WebFOCUS within a Multi-Tiered Environment

Jeremy Bordelon, Allegis Group
Tech Level:  | Prerequisite: Basic knowledge of WebFOCUS administration and network architecture.
Monday 11:00AM - 12:00PM
Allegis Group chose WebFOCUS as its standard multi-tiered, fault-tolerant reporting solution across headquarters and its operating companies. This presentation will cover how Allegis Group created a scalable enterprise reporting solution using WebFOCUS, and discuss important post-install technical considerations. Attendees will see how the company's environment evolved, the hurdles it overcame, the resulting architecture, code management strategies for managing multiple development teams, and successes. This session is recommended for anyone with requirements for a secure, scalable, fault-tolerant architecture, as well as newer customers getting started, or those looking to improve their existing environment.

Business Intelligence: Teach a Man to Fish

Rob Fosnaugh, Brotherhood Mutual Insurance
Tech Level:  
Wednesday 9:45AM - 10:45AM
Business intelligence is used to describe many aspects of reporting within an organization. Dashboards, scorecards, electronic reports, paper reports, and e-mail alerts are being volleyed at business users each day. But are they effective? Explore how to build a culture of intelligence in your organization by teaching your users how to fish.

Customizing ReportCaster: Achieving Greater Than 99 Percent Accuracy on 20,000 Customer Reports

Steve Buczkowski, Brightpoint North America
Subbarao Desu, Brightpoint North America
Tech Level:  
Monday 2:45PM - 3:45PM
With some creative enhancements to ReportCaster, BrightPoint has been able to achieve 99 percent accuracy and timeliness in sending close to 20,000 externally facing reports on a monthly basis.

From "Green Screen" to Dashboard: One Company's Story

Jarrod Johnson, Mike-sell's Snack Food Co.
Tech Level:  
Wednesday 4:00PM - 5:00PM
This session will outline one company's steps in moving from static, unfriendly reporting to a dynamic, interactive, and user-friendly reporting dashboard environment. You'll also get to peer behind the scenes, from GUI programming to WebFOCUS language coding.

Streamlining Dashboard Performance and Expanding the User Base

Matt Chapin, Wendys International
Tech Level:  | Prerequisite: WebFOCUS Admin Skills, SQL, WebFOCUS Developer Skills
Tuesday 9:45AM - 10:45AM
Business intelligence (BI) dashboards are vital to Wendy's success. Over the past three years, the company has continuously improved these dashboards to maximize performance and securely address the needs of a broader user base. In this session, attendees will learn how dashboards, databases, and other aspects of the environment were assessed, and what techniques and tools were employed to optimize performance. Today, Wendy's BI dashboards have evolved to include more than 400 different reports, accessed by over 3,000 users, including internal staff and franchise employees.

Becoming Smarter: Architecting BI and Enterprise Data Warehouse Success

Mark Shrum, Senior Health Insurance Company of Pennsylvania
Tech Level:  
Sunday 3:15PM - 4:15PM
Senior Health Insurance Company of Pennsylvania (SHIP) provides long-term care insurance services. A year ago, SHIP partnered with Information Builders and Teradata to improve analytics, enhance fraud detection, and create an environment for faster and more informed decision-making. A richly envisioned plan with line-of-business support now has happy customers and created a potential SaaS offering for other LTC insurance providers. Success, however, has many supporters and detractors. Attend to learn how you can increase the odds of making your business intelligence and enterprise data warehouse projects exceed expectations.

Active Technology Reports and Ad Hoc Reporting

Chris Byrne, Paycor
Ryan Kolatalo, Paycor
Tech Level:  | Prerequisite: Knowledge of WebFOCUS
Wednesday 9:45AM - 10:45AM
You want to build an external interface to interact with WebFOCUS but you don't want to reinvent the wheel. At Paycor, we have developed an ASP.NET solution with ad hoc active reporting. This presentation will discuss how the technologies interact with each other and discuss the out-of-the-box features of Active Technology Reports that require minimal developmental effort!

Data Migrator Repeating Data Flows: That Was Then, This Is Now

Kathy Getz, Omnicare
Lori Pieper, Information Builders
Tech Level:  | Prerequisite: General knowledge of DataMigrator
Tuesday 4:00PM - 5:00PM
Prior to verson 7.7 of DataMigrator, if you wanted to repeat the same data flow multiple times, but simply point to a different table or connection, you had to manually code that logic to repeatedly loop through the data flow. This can be difficult to maintain and troubleshoot. In DataMigrator 7.7, there are out-of-the-box facilities that make this process easy. We'll walk you through an example of what our flows looked like before 7.7 and we'll show you details of how to easily set this up today.

Avoiding Big BI Blunders: How to Run a Successful WebFOCUS Dashboard Project

Doug Lautzenheiser, Partner Intelligence
Tech Level:  
Monday 2:45PM - 3:45PM
Executives, project managers, and technical developers will discover how to avoid common blunders involving WebFOCUS business intelligence (BI) dashboards. Core foundations required before a BI initiative is initiated will be identified, and the key ingredient to "clarity" will be explained. Personal experience with tools such as low-fidelity mock-ups will be shared, and concepts such as the Magic Triangle, the Planning Fallacy, and the Versioned Release Schedule will be discussed.

You can see the entire agenda on the IBI Summit 2012 webpage.

About Me

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

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

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

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