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
  admin_level = SRV

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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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. 

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.