March 8, 2004
Continuing competitive and economic pressures are driving organizations to improve the performance of their business operations. Organizations want both efficiency and effectiveness improvements, especially in areas of the organization where activities are workforce- and not automation-dependent. Companies are deploying information integration and delivery technology used for business intelligence, data integration, and application development to achieve these improvements. Reports are often a part of these operational performance enhancement applications.
Reporting software is evolving at a rapid pace: web delivery is now commonplace, interactivity increases with every new release, and vendors are adding complementary capabilities such as collaboration. Another new technology frontier for reporting has enterprise application developers embedding reporting directly into their applications. Embedded reports have somewhat different requirements than other more traditional reporting systems. In addition to the usual reporting capability needs, embedded reporting systems must be easily adapted to their host application. They must also be low cost, because the reporting function is often only one of many functions of the application and its cost must be balanced with the rest of the application. Organizations developing reporting-enabled applications now use low-cost embedded reporting solutions like that from ReportingEngines to meet their reporting needs.
ReportingEngines is a wholly owned subsidiary of Actuate. Both Actuate and ReportingEngines provide software that enables creation and distribution of reports. However, the architecture and approach of the respective products is different. Actuate's products are for enterprises that wish to deploy information applications to a diverse group of users. Actuate's emphasis is on providing robust production reporting and business intelligence capabilities to large communities of users. ReportingEngines' products allow application developers to embed reporting into Java-based applications. ReportingEngines' emphasis is on ease of implementation within Java development communities.
ReportingEngines Formula One
ReportingEngines' Formula One tool set enables Java developers to design and deploy reports embedded within applications. Formula One is 100% encoded in Java and supports various J2EE compliant application servers such as BEA WebLogic and IBM WebSphere.. Extensive API access is provided to the run-time engine, the development tool, and the data management classes to enable highly customized integration with applications. As with Actuate, Formula One provides robust support for reports encoded as spreadsheets along with other formats. Reports developed in the ReportingEngines environment are not intended to be deployed in the Actuate environment.
Ventana Research evaluates functionality to provide a distilled understanding of a product's capabilities. We summarize key functions that are essential to the product's use. These then provide the basis from which we derive other evaluation category assessments in this profile.
Formula One consists of the following products:
Formula One e.Report Engine Release 7 — an embeddable runtime reporting processing engine
Formula One e.Spreadsheet Engine Release 10 — an embeddable runtime spreadsheet processing engine
Formula One e.Report Designer Release 7 — a Java-based GUI report design tool
Formula One ActiveX Release 6.1 — a Microsoft Windows-based spreadsheet visualization component
Actuate's e.Spreadsheet Designer can be used to develop spreadsheet 'report' templates used by the Formula One e.Spreadsheet Engine.
e.Report Engine is bundled with the e.Report Designer and e.Spreadsheet Engine is bundled with a version of the Actuate e.Spreadsheet Designer. A version of the e.Report Engine that is integrated with the BEA WebLogic application server is now shipping. The BEA-specific product also includes an integration component for BEA WebLogic Workshop that enables report development and deployment from within that IDE.
Formula One e.Report Engine is primarily focused on Java-based application development. All of the Formula One products are written in Java, with one exception: Formula One ActiveX, a visualization component used for windows-based application development, is not coded in Java.
The following is an overview of Formula One product functionality:
Data Access — Multiple source types can be accessed including in-memory Java objects, databases, JavaBeans, XML-encoded data, BEA Liquid Data, and text files.
Report Development — Wizards and a report editor enable developers to create reports in a drag-and-drop environment.
Report Deployment — Reports are deployed through the e.Report run-time engine. The engine is compatible with IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic, MacroMedia JRun, or any J2EE application or Web server.
Report File Formats — Report output formats supported are Excel, PDF, XML, DHTML, HTML, CSV, and email. Reports can also be sent directly to the printer.
Report Types — Reports may contain the following types of data: nested sub-reports, tables, cross-tabs, grouped and totaled rows, charts, spreadsheets, hyperlinks, text, images, and graphics.
Platform Leverage — The e.Report and e.Spreadsheet engines utilize and integrate with services provided by hosting application servers. Services utilized include scheduling, connection pooling, security, and user administration.
Usability enables software adoption. Usability is the measure of usefulness and convenience the software provides to users as they execute their primary responsibilities. Useful software facilitates or enables execution of difficult or impossible tasks. Convenient software streamlines the interaction requirements of its users to accomplish tasks. Convenient software is easy-to-use. Usability of business intelligence software relates to its ability to facilitate decision making for multiple roles including managers and analysts.
Formula One has many of the capabilities required for it to be a highly usable reporting technology. Multiple environments are supported, data from different sources are accessible, reports can be highly stylized, report content can be presented in various forms, and reports can be delivered in various forms to various viewing mediums.
When compared to hand-coded reports, Formula One provides dramatic usability benefits that include shortened development time, simpler application architecture, enhanced report robustness, simpler report maintenance, and the opportunity to direct development resources on differentiated capabilities. Formula One is also more usable than other non-Java encoded reporting products for Java-based application development. Direct access to in-memory Java objects, JavaBeans, and BEA Liquid data are essential for applications that may require in operational reporting where urgency of data need precludes its presence in an underlying data store.
The Formula One e.Spreadsheet provides three unique benefits to spreadsheet users: 1) automated spreadsheet data extracts; 2) automated spreadsheet generation; and 3) what-if analysis. Formula One e.Spreadsheet engine can automatically populate servers with data from multiple sources and then publish those spreadsheets to users. Unlike spreadsheets exported or published by other reporting technologies, Formula One-produced spreadsheets can include formulas that enable what-if analysis. Totals, variances, and other derived calculations can be represented as formulas, so users can vary input values to observe summary sensitivity. Automatic generation of these formulas is a significant labor saving feature for spreadsheet users.
Bottom line: Formula One provides solid reporting capabilities. Differentiated Formula One usability stems from its combination of Java data sources, application server hosting, and spreadsheet support.
Robust integration between software enables streamlined business processes that ultimately reduce cost and time for an organization to execute. The result of the software's ability to integrate is the streamlining of business processes and software administration. Ability to integrate with data sources, the web, security and other enterprise software services, and transactional applications are important capabilities for business intelligence software.
Formula One's value proposition is based upon the concept of robust integration capability for Java-based applications. As such it has the following integration-supporting attributes:
100% written in Java
API is certified to be all Java
Application development environment integrated
Report input capabilities are application-centric
Report output is application integration enabled
The APIs presented by the 100% Java encoded Formula One enable interaction with all parts of the products. Developers can integrate applications into Java classes for the e.Report Designer and e.Spreadsheet Designer and the e.Report Engine. Through these classes, applications can control and manipulate report data sources, report layout, report execution, and report delivery.
Application servers that can host Formula One include IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic, Apache, JBoss, Tomcat, and Macromedia's JRun. ReportingEngines has also further embedded its technology into BEA WebLogic Workshop. Workshop users can embed a Formula One component directly into a Java project via drag-and-drop, thereby automatically embedding all data source connection, report execution, and report delivery functionality to view that report.
Formula One can access multiple data sources. In addition to accessing common relational and non-relational data sources via JDBC, Formula One can access real-time and application data from in-memory Java objects, including JavaBeans. Formula One now supports BEA Liquid Data and EJBs as well. XML-encoded data streams can be parsed and used as input.
Bottom line: Formula One has extensive integration facilities. Out-of-the-box facilitation exists for common data sources and formats. Direct access to Java objects is a differentiated capability of Formula One. Programmatic access to all aspects of Formula One assures reduced risk of 'can't be done' challenges.
Manageability measures the ability to configure and direct the operation of software. Software's manageability can be measured by its ability to leverage administrative actions across the broadest possible set of objects in the shortest amount of time for all administrative tasks. Business intelligence software must also fit within the overall software management environment within an organization.
Formula One e.Report engine is an extremely simplified, yet customizable, report-processing engine. Most administrative capabilities otherwise found in enterprise reporting systems must be added to Formula One. The list below shows functionality that would need to be provided by either the application server or by custom development
Report set management
Reliability configuration (fail-over, restart)
Bottom line: Outside of report maintenance, many of the reporting system administrative functions and dialogs found in mainstream reporting tools are 'outsourced' by Formula One to either the hosting application server or to custom code created by the developer.
Reliable software assures consistent, continuous operation regardless of expected and unexpected events. Business intelligence software should provide equivalent results assuming equivalent inputs. Business intelligence software should be available for use when required. For this profile, we highlight specific features of the product that contribute to reliability.
Because Formula One operates as embedded code hosted by an application server, it delegates reliability features found in enterprise reporting systems to the application server. Failover and restart along with load balancing are available if the application server hosting Formula One provides them.
Adaptable software supports unforeseen requirements. Users expect software to adapt to any required usage mode. Administrators expect software to adapt to any configuration requirement. Business Intelligence software must adapt to any and all business analytic and decision-making needs.
The programming-centric architecture of Formula One makes it adaptable to a wide range of reporting challenges. Clearly, many design challenges that are not supported out-of-the-box can be overcome with incremental coding. Yet, boundaries to the applicability Formula One are clear; embedded reporting is a good application for Formula One whereas enterprise production reporting is not. Based upon the lack of administration options, Formula One will work best when administrative requirements are simple and few.
Formula One e.Spreadsheet engine has the unique capability to execute calculation tasks on a server that are defined within a spreadsheet. The implication is that end-users can use familiar tools to define computational tasks that can then be scheduled to execute automatically on a server. This usage paradigm can simplify collaboration between IT and line of business as they work to create useful business analysis.
Bottom line: Enterprise deployment features are missing from Formula One. Compensation through custom development and application server hosting can overcome some of these omissions. e.Spreadsheet can creatively solve collaboration challenges between IT and LOB.
Software must assure that all active users experience minimal delay as they use the software to meet their role responsibilities. Good software performance enables users and administrators to accomplish their jobs within the constraints of their business. Business Intelligence software performance minimizes the decision making cycles through fast information delivery and analysis along with streamlined decision making.
Many factors affect reporting system performance. Some are internal to the reporting system and some are external. Reporting systems can address impacting factors in two ways: 1) assure that the report-generation tasks (e.g. report data population and delivery) are executed as efficiently as possible and 2) compensate for performance deficiencies elsewhere in the system (e.g. data source query latency).
Formula One is a streamlined reporting tool. Nevertheless, large-scale reporting performance tuning capabilities are left to the hosting application server and the developer to provide. Report throughput will depend upon the efficiency of the implementation (including the data sources). Some features exist to overcome performance issues elsewhere in the system:
Reports can be executed in advance of user demand.
Users can receive reports one page at a time to reduce delivery latency.
Bottom line: Formula One provides some features to assure adequate performance, but it depends upon external resources for others (e.g. load balancing, parallel processing, etc.).
Cost of Ownership
Software efficiency can be measured by aggregate ownership costs. Total cost of ownership includes software costs, hardware costs and personnel costs. Personnel costs can include cost of usage and administration. Low cost of ownership assures that software (including business intelligence software) minimizes cost impact on organizations while meeting its stated requirements.
Relative ownership costs of Formula One will vary according to its usage. Development costs where the design requirements fall mostly within its out-of-the-box functionality will be low. Administration costs will be low as long as administrative requirements fit within the capabilities of the product and its hosting application server. At $4,995 per server, software licensing costs are very low when compared to licensing costs for vendor-licensed business intelligence reporting systems systems (see "Business Intelligence Total Cost of Ownership Benchmark"), but higher when compared to open-source reporting technology. Hardware costs will likely vary insignificantly across various alternative equivalent reporting solutions.
Bottom line: Overall costs will be significantly lower than for business intelligence reporting systems from leading vendors. Open source solutions may be price competitive, but costs will vary based upon the quality and support for the open-source solutions. Variations in cost between Formula One and open source will be significantly narrower than between Formula One and vendor-licensed business intelligence reporting systems from the leading vendors.
Formula One meets many of the needs for information delivery infrastructure used for operational performance improvement: extensive APIs for integration, support for leading applications servers, innovative spreadsheet integration and delivery, and graphically created reports (and spreadsheets). Organizations that intend to implement operational performance management applications that require reporting and application integration should consider Formula One. Organizations intending to deploy applications to support Excel-user communities should consider the Formula One e.Spreadsheet Engine. Embeddable reporting technology such as Formula One will lower ownership costs and accelerate development schedules as organizations use it to avoid development of non-application-specific infrastructure.
Eric Rogge [[email protected]] is research director of Business Intelligence and Analytics at Ventana Research. Rogge has more than 20 years experience with technology and software vendors in the analytic applications, enterprise software, and database software segments.
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