IBI tightens link between WebFocus, SAP

Business intelligence vendor Information Builders announced Monday that it has added features to its product WebFocus that will make it work much more easily with SAP’s ERP programs, a move that, said analysts, is a savvy one.

In addition to the streamlined feel of the SAP-friendly WebFocus 7.6.2, a couple of features are especially key to the on-the-ground worker, according to Information Builders’ vice-president of corporate marketing, Jake Freivald. Security administration has been pared down to a single sign-on, he said, while improved hierarchy reporting and metadata management allows the user to focus on the business modules and specific reports or information that matters most to them.

These new features all add up to a significant strategy on SAP’s part. “There are a number of advantages to aligning yourself with a market-share-leading ERP vendor who has amassed awareness and visibility and a large user base,” said Dave Hatch, business intelligence research director with the Boston-based Aberdeen Group.

He recently conducted a survey of over 300 companies on how they deliver information in the enterprise. Going with the best-in-class respondents, Hatch found that ERP is playing a significant role in the business intelligence sphere. “Forty per cent looked to their ERP company for their BI, as an embedded application,” he said.

And when asked about their future plans, 22 per cent of them said that they planned to obtain their business intelligence through an ERP-embedded application sometime over the next twelve months. Said Hatch: “It’s definitely an emerging trend.” As on-site dedicated business intelligence solutions become less popular, other solutions are coming up, too, including on-demand business intelligence and consulting solutions providers.

“This will ensure their longevity,” said Jim Kobielus, principal analyst with the Alexandria, Virginia-based IT research firm Current Analysis. The move plays on the company’s strength with linking information (a la the company’s iWay suite). “It has to extract the information from the third-party applications that are already installed,” he said. “They provide back-end data integration and front-end business intelligence.”

Such tight integration could also backfire, according to Hatch. He said that customers could have trouble trying to discern which solution is best for them, and whether they’d really be getting something different by using WebFocus. “That difference will need to be spelled out by SAP,” said Hatch.

But over-trusting SAP could lead to problems, said Kobielus: “(Information Builders) will relinquish some degree of control to an important competitor. It’s a risk, as SAP is also a business intelligence vendor, so they might not have Information Builders’ best interests in mind, or position NetWeaver as their business intelligence (platform).”

But the odds of a buyout aren’t very high, according to the analysts. Said Hatch: “Information Builders has been around for a very long time. It’s not like they’re shopping themselves around for a buyout.” If this were to occur, Kobielus speculates that the interested parties would come from the SOA side of the fence, with vendors looking to beef up their business intelligence and strengthen their offering to the enterprise. Freivald said that Information Builders’ niche should keep it safe. “There is always some overlap, but very few companies are purely an SAP shop. There’s always room for others,” he said.

While the analysts agree that SAP integration is clever, it might not hold up for long. Hatch said, “Cognos and Business Objects already connect directly with SAP — it’s not exclusive to Information Builders. They have to reveal (what they have exclusively) still.”

Said Kobielus: “It’s great, but everyone’s doing it. Everyone’s got the same integration story.”

Kobielus said that he’d like to see better integration with other vendors, such as Microsoft and Oracle, in future iterations, along with a greater delving into corporate performance management features.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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