Software // Information Management
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6/10/2009
09:41 AM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Who Needs BI When There's Active PDF?

Information Builders kicked off its annual user conference in Nashville, Tenn., this week... The most intriguing part was Daniel Ortolani's demo of a new feature of Active Reports called Active PDF, which supports sorting, filtering, charting and other modes of data exploration from within a PDF document.

Information Builders kicked off its annual user conference in Nashville, Tenn., this week on an upbeat note to the tunes of a marching band, a furry mascot, and a comedian. Yep, comedian Greg Schwem (very funny!) preceded the official keynote by President and Founder Gerry Cohen. It was a novel start to a BI conference, but with the economy struggling and some attendees having to travel here on their own dime, it was an upbeat start to a smaller-than-usual conference.

The most intriguing part of Cohen's keynote was VP Daniel Ortolani's demo of a new feature of Active Reports called Active PDF. With Active PDF, the entire range of Active Reports capabilities (sort, filter, chart) are now available from within a PDF document. While Information Builders' positions Active Reports for a mobile work force, I see the value as much broader to any information consumer, including customers, suppliers and regulators who receive currently static reports and documents. As a residential electricity consumer, I would love for JCP&L to send me an Active PDF e-bill so I can figure out which months our consumption flags us as a high-consumption electric user. (Heck, I leave our thermostat at 78 in summer, and we even have a portion allocated to wind power! But let's not digress).By a show of hands, less than 5% of Information Builders customers at the conference are using Active Reports. Whether that's due to the product positioning or that it is an optional server-add on, I don't know. (Customers: care to comment?) However, the vendor is offering customers a free trial license as part of its latest 7.6.9 release of WebFOCUS. The reports are water marked until the product is actually licensed -- a smart way to entice customers to try the product. Enhancements to InfoAssist (click here for an in-depth product review) also made the key note. InfoAssist, released last November, is the vendor's solution for business users, and as Cohen conceded, is an area the vendor had not previously put much emphasis on. The most noteworthy change in 7.6.9 is support for OLAP cube-browsing, including SAP BW, Oracle Hyperion Essbase, and Microsoft Analysis Services.

The customer presentations and discussions are what make going to these conferences most worth the trip. In particular, Ford Motor Company, which recently decided to standardize on WebFOCUS as part of its BI tool strategy, reflected an interesting theme I've encountered with several Information Builders' customers. While business users have demanded business query tools to avoid the IT report backlog, report chaos has sometimes ensued. This is as much a BI tool issue as an organizational challenge. When a business query tool is deployed, IT still has an active role to play in managing shared and reusable reports; but such changing roles are rarely considered on the road to self-service BI. Meanwhile, historically, Information Builders was criticized for being too developer- and application-centric. And yet, the ability to build a reporting application (versus a single report) is a differentiator, but one the vendor seems not to emphasize. To be fair, perhaps it's because that capability doesn't fit neatly into an existing tool category. And of course, the value of this ability is more appealing to companies that have a centralized approach to BI and in which there is a strong IT-business relationship -- a minority of businesses on both counts. But the ability to build one reporting "application" with parameters for which data to display, how to filter the data, and the desired output, clearly is a lower cost proposition than hundreds of users developing hundreds of variations of similar reports.

Insurer Nationwide shared insights on a community service project they've done with the Columbus, Ohio, school district that gives principals and teachers access to information on student data with a vision of improving graduation rates. In the two years since the reporting project started, high school graduation rates have improved from 50% to 75%. This story is one more example that shows BI is not only about improving business performance, but also, in making the world a better place!

Regards,

Cindi Howson, BI ScorecardInformation Builders kicked off its annual user conference in Nashville, Tenn., this week... The most intriguing part was Daniel Ortolani's demo of a new feature of Active Reports called Active PDF, which supports sorting, filtering, charting and other modes of data exploration from within a PDF document.

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