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Yearbook publisher finds BI reporting, data integration tools from same vendor

When Walsworth Publishing began looking for a new business intelligence reporting product as well as data integration tools, execs were happy to find both in one place.

As part of a large restructuring of its IT infrastructure, Walsworth Publishing Co. decided that the first steps were to find both a business intelligence reporting product that could deliver timely reports and technology to aid the transition from legacy apps and data sources to new, modern ones.

After an extensive search that included evaluations of Cognos and Business Objects, Walsworth said they found technologies to handle both issues from the same vendor, Information Builders.

While known largely for its WebFOCUS reporting and analysis tool, the New York-based vendor has also received plaudits from analyst firms and industry watchers for its data integration adapters.

Branded Universal Adapter Suite under the Information Builders subsidiary iWay Software, the adapters are designed to integrate data from multiple disparate sources to the WebFOCUS suite. Also, during large migrations, they connect mainframe and other legacy technologies with newer applications and data sources.

The adapters play an especially important role for Information Builders, which, as one of the only remaining standalone BI vendors, must be able to tap into competitors' data sources, not their own. Mega-vendors Oracle and SAP, on the other hand, while their BI software often needs to integrate data from other vendors' applications and databases, have proprietary connectors to easily grab data from their own applications as well.

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"Information Builders shines with … the most comprehensive information access adapters, easily connecting a large number of very heterogeneous data sources including legacy mainframe databases," wrote Forrester Research Inc.'s Boris Evelson in a recent report on BI platforms.

IWay's data integration adapters are capable of traditional extract, transform and load, or "bulk and batch" loading, as well as real-time data federation integration, in which data is extracted directly from source systems for on-the-fly analysis to complement data warehouse deployments.

Walsworth is one of only four major companies that designs and manufactures high school and college yearbooks. Its first challenge was to maintain continuity during the migration from a homegrown management information system that consisted of an AS/400 DB2 database to a modern, industry-specific proprietary platform called Prism.

The conversion, which began nearly four years ago and is ongoing, required data from one system to remain available while it was transitioned to the new one, said Sherri Pickman, finance and cost accounting manager at Walsworth.

At the start of the process, Pickman and her team looked into a number of BI vendors, including then independents Cognos and Business Objects. While she found Information Builder's reporting capabilities just as robust as its two larger competitors, it was the integration adapters, as well as lower prices, that sold her on the vendor.

"Our data was in so many disparate systems, but with Information Builders adapters we could hook into AS/400" and other systems, Pickman said -- something Cognos and Business Objects were less adept at. "And, as we replaced the system, we wanted to make the process as seamless as possible."

While the migration continues, Pickman said Walsworth is already enjoying the benefits of WebFOCUS reporting thanks to the iWay adapters. Prior to implementation, Walsworth workers manually generated Excel-based, green bar reports from the AS/400 system and emailed them to the relevant parties. Some reports were even delivered in envelopes in hard copy form. The results were static reports that were often days or weeks old once delivered.

The migration continues and such manual reports are still required for data still residing in the AS/400. But for the data that WebFOCUS can access via the iWay adapters, workers can now tap Web-based dashboards and reports with near real-time data.

As a result, workers are able to make better business decisions, Pickman said. Sales execs use the dashboards and reports to determine if it makes sense to give discounts to certain accounts, for example. And, the manufacturing department is better able to track the progress of particular jobs and make them more efficient, she said.

In addition, Walsworth has used WebFOCUS to create a dashboard for its 3,700 customers -- mostly high schools and universities -- to let students monitor the progress of their yearbooks and to alert them about upcoming deadlines for photos or other aspects of the books.

When the migration process from the AS/400 system to the new Prism system is complete, which Pickman concedes is only about a third of the way finished, all of Walworth reporting will be Web-based, interactive and timely -- and hand-delivered hard copies will be a thing of the past.

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