Databeacon has announced its new Smart Client product suite built using Microsoft .NET. One of the first BI client interfaces to be built using .NET, Smart Client offers a rich interactive environment similar to a Windows client interface, but with the ease of installation and configuration of a browser-delivered interface. Extending Databeacon’s ability to deliver explorable reports to .NET, Smart Client is intended to enable substantial interactive ad-hoc analysis capabilities. IT benefits from the Smart Client/Explorable report combination by having lower requirements for server processing power. Business benefits from lower cost of ownership. Ventana Research recommends that organizations with constrained server resources, and with .NET as a computing standard, consider Databeacon’s new Smart Client product suite.
On October 14th, 2004, Databeacon announced its new .NET-based Smart Client product suite. This announcement is significant, as it is the first announcement of a business intelligence platform where the client is based on .NET. .NET-based application clients promise the same rich environment found with a Windows client, but with same automated download and configuration found with browser-based user interfaces. The implication is that users can gain a rich interface with behavior similar to other desktop applications, while IT organizations gain similar client administration advantages found with server-based, browser-delivered applications. Application developers gain virtually the same rich, integrated, efficient development environment used by Microsoft for Windows-based applications.
So, where’s the catch? Well, organizations wishing to deploy the Databeacon Smart Client will need to have a .NET environment installed on every system where the Smart Client will be used. While a one-time deal, if there is a large user community, then installation will be a significant effort. If those desktop computers are not robust enough to efficiently run the .NET environment, then they will need to be upgraded.
With Smart Client, Databeacon promises to provide users with 'explorable reports.' This concept supports requirements identified by Ventana Research for operational deployment of business intelligence (see “Business Intelligence for Operational Performance”). While delivery of summarized, prioritized data is a key requirement for operational BI applications, the ability to explore the underlying cause of the issue is just as important. With explorable reports, users can search underlying data to identify issue causes and enable smarter decision making.
So, is this any different than a linked set of Web-delivered reports? Not necessarily in behavior, but in performance. By compressing and including the underlying data detail along with a summary report, explorations are processed on the desktop, minimizing query sequences to the server. This, in turn, means better query response and better system throughput. Of course, the devil is in the detail: the explorable reports have to be artfully designed to contain meaningful information; otherwise the bet doesn’t pay off.
Databeacon’s Smart Client can be configured to serve information consumers, power users and IT. These roles are served by Web Report, Player and Insight configurations of the Smart Client. Of particular interest is the Player technology, which is an internet-installed, interactive analytic tool that allows OLAP-based ad-hoc analysis. As users download their explorable reports, they can then automatically download the Player and analyze away.
Databeacon’s better server-side efficiency provides an opportunity for organizations lacking funds for robust server environments to still deploy interactive environments to their users. Where this will likely be a best fit is where the user’s need for data exploration can be confined to a domain that can fit within a report’s data capacity. Otherwise, new reports have to be created and populated, just as with any reporting system. Ventana Research believes this kind of constraint is reasonable and there are many application areas where this approach works. This is especially the case where users are reasonably adept at interactive data analysis but need more exploration capability than that with spreadsheet pivot tables.
As a BI vendor focused on the small to medium-sized business market, Databeacon rests its long-term hopes on technological innovation as a means to differentiate and succeed. Tight integration with Microsoft technology is a key part of its development strategy, as it provides Databeacon faster time-to-delivery for new products. Nevertheless, the bargain may be Faustian in the end, because .NET is available to one and all, so barriers to entry are lowered across the board.
The long-term challenge for Databeacon and other similarly-sized BI vendors is that of survival in a market served by much larger vendors, such as Actuate, Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion, Information Builders, that have broad and overlapping technologies. Given the 10% or so growth in the foreseeable future for BI, carving a protected market niche will require superb execution. For Databeacon, so far, so good. Its success to date and stated focus on small- to medium-sized businesses and departments gives it an opportunity to serve a market segment that is less interesting to the larger players and better served by local reseller and consulting partners.
Organizations looking to deploy interactive reports where server hardware is scarce or where the user community is small should look at Databeacon. Independent software vendors that serve small- and medium-sized businesses and that need to add multi-user analytic capabilities should similarly look at Databeacon. Ventana Research recommends that any organization intending to standardize on .NET as a client interface standard should look at Databeacon as a possible analytics and reporting platform.
Eric Rogge is VP & Research Director - Business Intelligence & Performance Management at Ventana Research.
Ventana Research is the preeminent research and advisory services firm helping our clients maximize stakeholder value with Performance Management throughout their organizations. Putting research in a business and IT context we provide insight and education on the best practices, methodologies and technologies that enable our clients to leverage assets to understand, optimize, and align strategies and processes to meet their goals and objectives.