Information Builders touts updated business intelligence software; users weigh in

At its 2007 user event, business intelligence software maker Information Builders unveiled capabilities for Excel, dashboards, compliance and real-time alerts.

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LAS VEGAS -- Information Builders Inc. (IBI) announced a slew of product updates at its recent user conference, but the product of particular interest to attendees predictably centered on Excel.

The New York-based business intelligence software vendor discussed new features in the May 22 release of WebFocus 7.6.1, the latest update to its business intelligence platform, during the opening session of its annual summit. IBI subsidiary iWay Software Inc. also made several announcements, including a new regulatory compliance framework. The company also alluded to features in an upcoming 7.6.2 release, slated for release at the end of June, but declined to share many specifics.

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About 1,200 people attended the show in Las Vegas this year. The three-day event included presentations, labs, networking between customers and, for the first time, vertical industry panels.

IBI customers said they came for the entire experience -- from the hands-on labs to networking to new product previews. Such was the case with longtime attendee John Sheridan, director of enterprise applications with AdminiStaff Inc., based in Kingwood, Texas. Eight people from his team attended the event this year, including several report developers. These technical people were particularly interested in the hands-on labs, Sheridan said. Personally, he spends his time attending sessions, learning about industry trends and finding out about product updates that will help him drive enterprise-wide, pervasive BI.

"I find this an extremely good investment of my time," Sheridan said. "I want to be able to have a sense of what's coming in the new releases, and of the new products -- which ones might be applicable for us."

This year, there were plenty of announcements for Sheridan to consider.

Product announcements abound

The 7.6.1 release includes Quick Data, a new Microsoft Excel plug-in that connects the spreadsheet program directly to the WebFocus reporting engine, helping users head off the potential problems created by Excel in an enterprise. Quick Data enables users to build WebFocus reports from within Excel, using data from different systems and reports. The feature leverages iWay's adapters, enabling companies to access enterprise data from heterogeneous systems. It's a significant update from IBI's past Excel features, according to Michael Corcoran, chief marketing officer. Previous versions required the user to go to WebFocus to create reports or queries, which could then be saved as an Excel document, he said. The new feature enables users to access WebFocus capabilities directly from the Excel environment.

"The real difference is that this process keeps an audit trail," Corcoran said. "WebFocus can tell you where data came from and how things were calculated. This is a little bit different from the other query facilities you might see from Microsoft or other technologies."

On the iWay side, IBI announced the integration of WebFocus with iWay's enterprise service bus, a component of its service-oriented architecture (SOA) technology. Together, the technologies now enable "real-time alerts," Corcoran said. It works by using iWay's adapters to various business systems to listen for predefined business events, such as a customer complaint. When it catches such an event, the system can send out alerts to people via IBI's Report Caster technology. This functionality is available now, Corcoran said.

iWay is also leveraging its adapters for the new "compliance solution framework," iComply. This system can help companies monitor business processes and audit information flowing between enterprise systems. By doing this, companies can catch potential problems that could affect compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley or other regulatory requirements. iComply is now available in beta, and pricing begins at $300,000.

IBI was also talking up its "active technologies" initiative, a concept first introduced in its Active Reports product last year, Corcoran said. The idea is that the analytical engine is packaged with a report for portable, offline analysis. This means that users can slice and dice data in a Web browser, even when they are not connected to the Internet. Related, one of the few 7.6.2 features discussed during the event was IBI's planned "active dashboards." These dashboards will be able to be deployed to a mobile device or emailed, allowing the recipient to do offline analysis.

Users' favorite new business intelligence feature

Sheridan and many other attendees said they were most interested in the Quick Data Excel features, saying it would help them solve a very real, pressing problem.

"The ability to use Excel as a report writer is going to be something that people will naturally gravitate to and will be very useful," Sheridan said. "That really caught my interest because it's a very immediate thing and it integrates into a lot of what we're doing. We're not going to have any problem selling that to the user community."

But Sheridan said he listens to more than just spokespeople at these events. Networking is a big draw.

"I love listening to what other [IBI] clients are doing because that gives me a fresh perspective on different things that we might do," he said. "There might be some things that someone else is doing that we haven't thought of yet."

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