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Information Builders BI platform making a return to form

After lagging behind the pace of innovation in recent years, Information Builders is modernizing its BI platform and again offering a full suite of analytics tools.

The Information Builders BI platform has a long history, but with new leadership in place at the top of the company it's headed in a new direction after all these years.

Gerry Cohen founded Information Builders and was its CEO for 43 years. From the vendor's beginnings in 1975, he helped develop the Information Builders BI platform into one of the top analytics technology suites on the market in that era.

But like what happened to many other legacy vendors, new innovations helped vendors such as Qlik, Tableau and ThoughtSpot -- among others -- pass Information Builders by.

"Cohen had been like a grandfather in the space and is sharp as a whip, and Information Builders had some very specific differentiators," said Rita Sallam, analyst of data and analytics at Gartner. "But they didn't fully transition to the new, easier-to-use paradigms."

They are now trying to address this with their revamped strategy, Sallam said.

In November 2017, after an equity investment from Goldman Sachs, the vendor brought in Frank J. Vella as chief operating officer. Just over a year later, in January 2019, Cohen stepped down and Vella was appointed CEO.

In the months since, the Information Builders BI platform, anchored by WebFocus, has been revamped and the vendor is not only upgrading its technology to focus on the cloud and augmented intelligence, but also going after the small- to medium-sized business market.

"Information Builders has taken an important new direction under the recently appointed CEO," said Donald Farmer, principal at TreeHive Strategy. "In particular, they appear ready to use their many years of experience and the software assets they have built up over those years to go after the medium-size enterprise market. That's a huge market which has been very successful for companies such as Tableau and Qlik."

Information Builders has taken an important new direction under the recently appointed CEO. They appear ready to use their many years of experience and the software assets they have built up over those years to go after the medium-size enterprise market.
Donald FarmerPrincipal, TreeHive Strategy

Similarly, Eric Raab, senior vice president of engineering and product at Information Builders, noted the new strategy under Vella. He pointed out, however, that while the Information Builders BI platform is undergoing an upgrade and there's a strategic target audience for the vendor, Vella has put his vision into action while keeping true to what came before him.

"He's had a huge impact," Raab said. "His mission was to respect the past but move to the future. His vision is to create a platform that is cloud-based and AI-empowered. He's kept his eye on the ball, maintaining the strengths of the past but delivering in a modern world."

From a development standpoint, Raab said that three main objectives are to improve the quality of the software in the Information Builders BI platform, making it easier to use and speed up the time it takes users to get insight from their data.

Information Builders is now releasing major updates three times per year -- the last was in June and the next will be in October -- as well as sending updates every two weeks to its cloud customers.

The June update included new data preparation and data join tools.

"During the lifecycle of data, we recognized we could gain value if we process the data before the data visualization stage," Raab said.

Information Builders also updated its WebFocus Designer visualization interface to better do offline analytics and offline reports, he said.

An organization's sales information is displayed on an Information Builders dashboard.
An Information Builders dashboard displays an organization's sales data.

The October update, according to Raab, will include a further update to WebFocus Designer, which the vendor will offer as a free trial.

"It will be dramatically easier to use," he said, emphasizing that the vendor is intent on modernizing its technology. "You can use it in the cloud, connect to a data source and instantaneously create visualizations and dashboards."

And modernizing is key since, as Sallam noted, the Information Builders BI platform has not been viewed as modern in recent years.

Like fellow legacy vendor Oracle in particular, however, Information Builders appears to be taking the right steps to bring the WebFocus suite up to date and attempt to erase the perception that it's not up to today's technological standards.

"What they've put in place with new people and a new discipline around development and ease-of-use should allow them to grow faster," Sallam said. "Are they going to compete with the leaders? What they've done is definitely positive and increases the likelihood of success."

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How do you think Information Builders' management change has affected the outlook for the vendor's BI platform?
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They didn't say anything that is different from the words of the leaders. But leaders have already become leaders. Therefore, it will be extremely difficult.
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