Information supply, demand spur growth in reporting

As e-commerce requires tighter integration among suppliers, partners, and customers, e-businesses are finding themselves dealing increasingly in content. And although this rising tide of content is hard for many organizations to manage, the increased data can mean opportunity.

Some of the bigger collectors of data are gathering as much as 1 terabyte a week, according to Mark Jarvis, CMO at Oracle Corp. And as data warehouses and data marts grow, companies are finding it advantageous to put that data in front of the right eyes.

Content distribution ranks as one of the five most important content-related chores, according to Susan Aldrich, an analyst at Boston-based Patricia Seybold Group.

Simply put, the integration of analytical functionality, interactive Web content, and real-time delivery of structured content with e-business applications helps companies gain a competitive advantage, according to Mike Schiff, vice-president of BI (business intelligence) and e-business at Current Analysis Inc., a Sterling, Va.-based market research firm.

For instance, two competing retailers that routinely try to undercut each other’s prices could benefit from proactively delivering their latest prices to customers, rather than hoping they figure it out for themselves.

On the other hand, a supplier that happens to find itself holding surplus inventory could deliver the relevant information to customers and potentially find a buyer.

“The importance of enterprise reporting has been growing rapidly and continues to grow rapidly,” said Dave Folger, a vice-president at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

A study from Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm International Data Corp. indicates that by 2004 the content delivery market will reach US$3.7 billion, surpassing the content management market, estimated to weigh in at US$2.6 billion that same year.

Historically, BI data was pushed out to users via predetermined reports that required a complex IT process; as a result, the reports were not always based on current or even relevant information.

“It’s difficult to produce really good reports, and it’s hard to build them from scratch,” Folger said.

Furthermore, analysts say that traditional reports typically leave users wanting to analyze the data even more, which only leads to another round with IT.

And customers are demanding real-time delivery of information, according to Kevin Quinn, vice-president of sales at Information Builders in New York.

“Content delivery is absolutely a key piece of the strategy,” he added.

According to a report by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York, as BI and analytic applications bring data to the forefront of companies’ e-business strategies, the delivery of information is becoming an even more integral component of BI.

In turn, vendors are adding functionality to their BI offerings.

Seagate Software Inc., in Scotts Valley, Calif., last month announced plans to create Crystal Enterprise, a Web-based platform that helps users design and deliver interactive, structured information to employees, customers, partners and others, both inside and outside the company.

Other BI vendors, including Business Objects SA, Cognos Inc., and Microstrategy Inc., have added information delivery pieces as well.

Content delivery is also being used outside the realm of BI products.

Last week, for instance, SilverStream Software Inc. aligned with Actuate Corp. to merge an information delivery solution with a Web-based architecture that provides personalization and content management in a J2EE-(Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and XML-based e-business platform. The deal is based on SilverStream’s e-Business Platform and Actuate 5.0.

Meta Group’s Folger added that portal vendors such as SilverStream open up a new opportunity for reporting capabilities, predicting that Actuate will partner with other portal software providers.

“It’s important for the portals that don’t have reporting to partner with someone to get it,” Folger said.

Next Gen Markets, in Schaumburg, Ill., uses Actuate’s product to deliver content to restaurants, ranging from small mom-and-pop joints to Hilton Hotels, according to CIO Barbara Moss.

Next Gen’s customers can access approximately 60 reports across five categories. Moss added that the restaurants can get data from the reports to help them make decisions such as how many pumpkin pies to order in an upcoming autumn and how to negotiate certain products with suppliers.

“We are able to provide reports to our customers that they normally wouldn’t be able to get,” Moss said.