Information Builders' CEO Gets Intelligence First Hand 2

Gerry Cohen stays close to customers, closer to competition.
You didn't see many vendor CEOs at last week's Gartner BI Summit, but there was Gerry Cohen, top executive and principal owner of Information Builders, attending sessions, chatting with potential customers during coffee breaks and checking out the literature at competitors' booths in the exhibit hall.

Gerry Cohen, CEO, Information Builders This sort of hands-on approach is rare among CEOs of $300 million software companies, but it has helped Information Builders hang tough in the highly competitive business intelligence market.

Just-released stats from IDC put BI software and maintenance revenues at $8.1 billion in 2009 and growth at a respectable 2.6% in an otherwise down year in most other technology sectors. IBM, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft now control roughly two thirds of the BI market, according to Gartner, and these megavendors aggressively try to bundle BI into larger deals with their middleware, applications, databases and portals.

Information Builders, by contrast, has two product lines: the WebFocus BI suite and iWay data integration software. The company ranked seventh in the market in 2008 behind larger independents Microstrategy and SPSS, though the latter has since been acquired by IBM.

Independent BI vendors have stayed competitive by combining lower prices and better service. According to last year's BARC BI Survey 8 of 2,622 customers, Information Builders WebFocus had among the highest overall scores among 26 products on ratings related to quality, deployment success, customer support and customer loyalty.

A WebFocus 8 platform upgrade announced last week keeps pace with many of the latest sought-after BI and data management features and functions. The release adds data-profiling, data-quality management and master data management components, for example, and new business activity monitoring features provide real-time decision support. Existing WebFocus dashboard and performance management features are improved with role- and user-based customizations and self-service personalization capabilities.

Most BI vendors have ventured into advanced analytics; Information Builders was the first to do so by embracing the open-source R programming language for statistical analysis with its RStat module. WebFocus 8 introduces two new analytic components: Visual Discovery 8 for visual analytics and an upgraded RStat module for predictive analytics.

Information Builders is celebrating its 35th anniversary this month, and Cohen still recites detailed, up-to-date figures for the zSeries (mainframe) and iSeries (AS/400) markets that gave the company its start. The company still has many customers on these platforms and it remains a long-term partner to IBM, despite that company's 2007 acquisition of Information Builders rival Cognos.

Born, raised and still a resident of New York, Cohen is old enough to remember Gimbels Department Store and the Polo Grounds where the New York Giants played, but he doesn't divulge his age.

"He's the Sumner Redstone of business intelligence," one employee quips, referring to the octogenarian majority owner of Viacom and CBS. Redstone probably has a decade on Cohen, but lieutenants say the BI veteran, like the media mogul, will likely never retire.

On closing night at last week's BI Summit, Cohen was seen giving away iPads as raffle prizes in Information Builders' packed hospitality suite. Later he was scoping out customer names and checking the (smaller) crowd at a rival's hospitality suite. "It's too busy in our room," he said. "I came over here so I could hear myself think."

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