Information Builders adds 450 new features

NEW YORK – Continuing the trend of business intelligence (BI) vendors answering the enterprise call for real-time data access, Information Builders Inc. (IBI) has launched WebFocus 5, a Web-enabled version of its flagship BI reporting solution.

The New York-based software maker, once a developer of fourth-generation languages for mainframes, has now turned its attention to Web-based information delivery products, data analysis software and integration tools.

During a recent media briefing, IBI vice-president Michael Corcoran said the new solution offers more than 450 new features, including “closed-loop” real-time reporting, extraction, transformation and loading capabilities, ad-hoc query, load balancing and portal integration. This new Java Servlet-based implementation offers the ability to create and publish reports as a Web service, accessible from both .Net and Java environments, Corcoran said.

“BI is not something you buy in a box,” Corcoran explained, adding that the solution particularly addresses the financial institution vertical with “improved” financial reporting capabilities.

WebFocus 5 is now more geared toward the business user – tightly integrated with desktop applications like Microsoft Excel to simplify creation and maintenance of complex financial reports, data consolidation and report generation, said Kevin Quinn, vice-president of sales and support at Information Builders.

This enables enterprises to deliver, based on schedules or alerts, all forms of transactional data – including third-party reports and word processing documents – which can then be integrated into portal that doesn’t accept Java or HTML, or into a data warehouse, Quinn said.

The enhanced financial capabilities have specific appeal to the Royal Bank of Canada, according to Andy Hanna. The Montreal-based manager of report management and distribution for the financial institution noted that the Royal Bank currently uses WebFocus and plans to migrate to the latest release.

“This is really cool stuff,” Hanna said, adding that the offering is less labour-intensive in that it allows users to “easily drill down, right to the cell level, and apply your financial rules to a particular result of a financial report.”

Hanna noted the application has features well-suited to financials. “When you’re saving an Excel file, the formula gets generated in Excel. From there you have a springboard – your spreadsheet is already populated with a formula.”

According to Keith Gile, senior industry analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group, IBI appears to be on the right track. He noted that WebFocus puts emphasis on reporting for non-tower users at the front end. This falls in line with what other BI vendors are doing (including Business Objects, Cognos and SAS), offering end-to-end capabilities that go all the way back to the source systems, the operational applications and the legacy data systems, Gile said. Expect to see significant consolidation in the BI market this year, he added.

“In the next 18 months or so several BI vendors are going to leave the landscape…or their technologies will be acquired by companies that are looking to get even bigger. The big will get even better, the small may survive just because they are too small to be relevant and some of the middle players will be targets for acquisition,” Gile said.

Despite new solutions such as WebFocus, BI sales in 2003 aren’t expected to soar, Gile said. In such a flat market, both users and vendors are starting to realize they have far too many solutions. At the same time, customers are beginning to understand BI in a more strategic sense, particularly when it comes to e-business.

Generally, Gile noted that vendors have done a lousy job in evolving the technology to satisfy the needs of the enterprise. “They’ve done a great job at some of these point solutions…but we’re just (about) to see this whole evolution of business performance,” Gile noted.

“It’s the vendor that can satisfy the broad spectrum of requirements that will be successful over the next few years.”

Pricing for WebFocus 5 starts at US$18,000, and it’s available on major platforms including MVS, Linux, Unix, NT and AS/400.