IBI puts the user in user conference

Tech Summit ’99, the Information Builders Inc. (IBI) user conference held last month in Orlando, Fla., was so focused on users that even IBI staffers had to admit news announcements and technology updates were buried too deeply. Even the biggest announcement of the conference — the synchronization of all product releases under the same unified 4.2.1 infrastructure and numbering system — didn’t generate very much discussion.

“I didn’t even really see anybody talking about it,” said Richard Levy, director of the EDA division and general manager of manufacturing for IBI in New York.

“The cause could have been that we announced our intentions to do this last year, but it just happened now. Maybe we just lost the impact (by pre-announcing it). We should be making a bigger deal about it.”

Levy explained most IBI customers are using products that fall somewhere in the 3.3.1 and the 3.3.2A releases, and that by migrating to the 4.2.1 line they would receive a number of enhancements. These include SAP enablement, having a core EDA base, pool server agents, connection queuing, a new ActiveX server, SQL pass-through, MFD (Master File Distribution) security, Euro support, and access to new data sources. Interoperability, however, would be the key benefit.

“This resolved a lot of confusion out there that existed in the past. Customers would always ask us, ‘Do these products work together?’ and the answer would always be ‘Yes.’ All the IBI products have always been upwardly compatible.”

Levy predicted that upgrading to the new version would be a simple experience that shouldn’t take more than a couple of days, but at least one IBI user is not that optimistic.

Shelley Mendez, project manager for the British Columbia Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations, Corporate Accounting System (CAS) Initiative, likes some of the new functionality and is willing to undergo an upgrade to acquire it, but she is not going to underplay the difficulties she expects from the process.

“If the Report Broker and Scheduler service are in there, then I’m going to have to upgrade, but doing an upgrade means everything gets affected. Something I’m not going to do is denigrate the upgrade process.”

The Report Broker and Scheduler are designed to keep browsers from timing out while running long reports and to permit reports to be run during off-peak hours.

Mendez explained that the Ministry just underwent a major upgrade that included changing OSes and moving to EDA 3.3.2. After two months of beta testing and two months of production use, she said the system is still not entirely stable.

“There are little settings in IBI software that are not completely compatible with every database or operating system configuration. We trip over them whenever we upgrade to a new release. It’s painful and we are living with that pain right now.”

Like Mendez, Walter Haluza, Toronto Transit Commission Focus Year 2000 team leader, was also impressed with the new reporting capabilities in the WebFocus portion of the IBI offering. “It is quite good. Your investment (in the mainframe) is already there, and you really aren’t going to do much development on it, but it does allow people to access all of the information. And with its e-mail reporting, and the ability to schedule reports, the product seems to be quite versatile. There is potential there.”

Kathryn M. Roberts, a San Francisco-based project manager for Walker Interactive Systems Inc., an integrator specializing in financial and operational systems and analytical software, also like the reporting capabilities, but was more excited by IBI’s foray into OLAP.

“I was really impressed by that. I have never seen anything which allows you to do processing on multiple platforms. I went to one of the seminars where this was demonstrated, and once you get in there and see the power of it you know they should have put much more emphasis into that,” Roberts said.

Mendez was less impressed by IBI’s take on OLAP. “IBI says it has OLAP, but nobody seems to be using it as yet. Fusion and InfoCube are not true OLAP.

“OLAP is still on the sidelines. You really have to have a strong requirement for it, because it is expensive and resource intensive.”

IBI’s meta data management offering also garnered mixed reviews. “The Meta Data Directory takes the meta data currently stored in the files and presents it in a table format. It is an improvement, but it is still only useful to a developer or a database administrator who understands the technical side,” Mendez said.

“I told IBI that it needs to develop a user presentation layer. I would not put this in front of my customers.”

She also wondered how the new release, which bundles in a more comprehensive group of products and features, will react when used in conjunction with an older system built of separate IBI components.

Still despite the criticism, Mendez was satisfied by the event. “I got a great deal out of meeting with the IBI experts one-on-one. I got to see demos of the products in use which, often as a customer, you don’t get to see.”