IBI takes analytics to edge

When even U.S. space agency NASA is bringing business intelligence (BI) onboard to improve its IT processes, the average enterprise should stand up and take notice.

Ronald Phelps, program manager for National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Kennedy Space Center, was among the 1,400 attendees at BI vendor Information Builders (IBI) Inc.’s Summit user conference held earlier this month in Las Vegas.

Phelps told ComputerWorld Canada the agency is currently using IBI’s WebFocus BI reporting and analysis tool to integrate its databases and enable engineers to track space shuttle work done by contractors.

“Engineers can actually go out and evaluate how the contractors are performing,” Phelps said. The system, called Insight, tracks pre-shuttle launch preparations and uses BI to generate database reports that can be published and accessed on the Web, Phelps said.

While the optics around return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) may be a tad different, NASA, like the average organization, has the same need to monitor and track enterprise data, Phelps said.

“Our requirement was to ease the workload and improve the work capabilities of our engineers, rather than making a profit for the company,” Phelps said. That said, enterprise concerns (such as productivity, efficiency and getting information faster) are the same, he added.

At Summit, IBI execs provided further details on BI platform WebFocus 7, which was officially unveiled in March. Gerald Cohen, IBI president and CEO, said in the opening keynote that the latest edition combines operational BI with the firm’s integration tools.

Indeed, operational business intelligence (OBI) — the process of applying real-time analytics to enterprise processes — was the theme of the conference.Whereas traditional BI focuses on the data layer and tracks moving indicators and historical trends, OBI operates on the application layer, enabling business users to monitor real-time events as they occur, and potentially enabling enterprises to improve internal systems and processes.

Similar OBI tools are also available from other vendors, a group that includes Cognos Inc. and SAS Institute Inc. If enterprises aren’t saving at least $1 million a month using BI tools, they “haven’t harnessed the true power of BI,” Cohen said. The new release from the New York-based analytics solution provider offers tighter integration and bundling of IBI subsidiary iWay’s data source adapters and metadata management tools. In addition to the iWay Software products integration, WebFocus also includes service-oriented architecture (SOA) adapters, Cohen said.

The new and enhanced features in WebFocus 7 include native access to more than 200 data sources; self-optimizing autonomic servers; a report wizard to allow developers to design parameter-driven reports; Microsoft Excel templates which enable existing Excel templates to be directly updated from corporate data sources; and self-service reporting to allow legacy, relational and data warehouse information to be accessed and pushed to the Web.

Roy Estevens, manager, business system information for the asset-based finance division of Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in Toronto, also attended the IBI Summit. Estevens said the financial institution implemented WebFocus earlier this year to improve its internal processes.

For RBC, using BI is not just about keeping pace with the industry, but also about providing a competitive advantage, Estevens said. WebFocus 7 is a tool RBC may useto streamline to streamline data transactions and back office processes, he added.

NASA’s Phelps said the agency is also looking to standardize on WebFocus 7, specifically to improve the reporting of large text fields. The new Excel functionality would allow staff to stick with using their custom Excel spreadsheets.

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