IBI points users to Web services

BALTIMORE – He may have initially dropped his speaker notes and periodically bumped the microphone but Information Builder Inc., president and CEO Gerald Cohen was exuberant as he kicked off the IBI 2002 User Conference here.

He immediately established the parameters for this year’s event, calling the theme “real time information with real time results” because as he indicated, we now live in an era where results are expected now.

Cohen explained how accessing information has evolved through numerous stages. It began in the mainframe era, when individuals within the enterprise needed to be within corporate walls to access that information and did so by obtaining a user ID and password to get to the information on the mainframe. Next came the days of the client/server environment, where users could share information and be interconnected but still needed to be in the same geographic place to do so.

Now, six years into the Internet revolution, data is finally free from its walls.

“What the Internet brought for us is the ability to have users from outside as well as inside the organization and now we have a totally new world. The Internet is changing to whom we can deliver information. Organizations are now more interconnected,” he said.

To that end, on Tuesday IBI said its WebFocus business intelligence tool is being fitted with Web services support.

The company will enable the publication of WebFocus applications through WSDL (Web services description language) interfaces, said Bob Ferrante, technical director at New York-based IBI. Users also will be able to deploy services from UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) registries and tie them together, according to the company.

WebFocus is a business intelligence product that delivers information from heterogeneous data sources. Information can be delivered via Web formats. “What we’re offering is giving the enterprise, which typically has many, many different groups developing information applications, the ability to mix and match their offerings internally, inside a company, to be able to add value to what they’re doing,” Ferrante said.

As an example, a human resources department could take an application for analyzing staff departures and link it via Web services to an application that gauges the success of staff training, the company said.

The company explained that Web services support would enable WebFocus customers to strengthen business relationships through improved communication and dynamic information exchange both inside and outside of an enterprise. Web services support will be provided in WebFocus in stages across several product releases in 2002, the company said.

However, Cohen said while it is now technologically possible to access information in new ways, a study conducted by the university of Texas says only about 11 per cent of companies are sharing information outside their enterprises, he added.

But what companies are beginning to realize is that by sharing data between other businesses, consumers or suppliers can lead to a competitive advantage. Cohen cited several examples of organizations that are taking advantage of this philosophy. Federal Express has a system in place whereby all its agents outside of the U.S. can all swim in the same information pool and Sun Life Insurance that allows its customers access to their own claims.

The driving force, he stressed is the Internet and the low cost point it provides from a communications viewpoint. “Using the Internet costs us practically nothing, and that’s a dramatic change (from six years ago).” And so while companies haven’t flocked to the idea of data sharing yet, he said it will become a natural evolution for enterprises to share data with one another.

He speculated that XML will grow as a means for storing information and documents in databases.

IBI is a privately held company that has two main arms: WebFOCUS, and iWay Software, considered middleware for e-business integration.

— With files from IDG News Service

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