“Data is the hot market to be in for users and for vendors,” declared Jeremy Ballanco, Information Builders VP of iWay sales, at IB Summit 2016 in Reno, Nevada last week. How hot? According to a recent Techaisle report, Analytics & Big Data in the US SMB Market (June, 2016), more than 50% of US-based SMBs now use analytics, and analytics adoption growth will continue to be strong over the next 1-2 years as an additional 19% put plans to adopt analytics into effect. By the end of 2017, the report data shows that the user population will increase by 37%, growing to over 70% of all US SMBs (and more than 90% of midmarket firms with 100-999 employees).
Techaisle research gives substance to the notion that significant new opportunity is available to members of the vendor community who can capitalize on the growing trend towards data driven decision-making. But for users, the data explosion is ‘hot’ in another sense: as Ballanco explained, “it’s not simple; there are lots of different types of data, environments are more complex, and there is increasing demand to deliver data more quickly.” Information Builders’ goal, throughout its forty year history, has been to enable insight into information; today, the company is focused on reducing this complexity and speeding deployment of data solutions, on helping businesses deal with ever larger volumes of data and on extending the reach of data products to all types of users within adopting organizations. At its annual end user Summit, the company described how it is working to achieve these goals. Commenting on IB’s business intelligence portfolio in his keynote address, chief marketing officer Michael Corcoran explained:
“It’s about a lot more than pretty pictures, though we do think our pictures are pretty too. It’s about automation and making the products easier to use, about making sure you can meet sophisticated challenges and solve complex problems. It’s about putting things like predictive analytics in the hands of non-technical people. That’s really the focus of our entire platform.”
Corcoran’s pretty picture poke lies at the heart of Information Builders’ differentiation in a data market that is becoming hot and crowded. A quick Google count of BI and analytics firms generates numbers in the hundreds, with more firms that specialize in visualization coming online at an increasingly rapid rate. But from the IB perspective, effective data solutions must encompass more than visualization; as Corcoran described them, the “Three Tiers” of data functionality that can transform information to business value are “Harmonize, Visualize and Operationalize,” which correspond in turn to Information Builders data integrity, integration and business intelligence capabilities – and enhancements announced at IB Summit 2016.
In the Information Builders’ schema, ‘harmonization’ refers to solutions aimed at improving trust in the data, that ensure siloed data systems and repositories work together, and that enable easy access to information for users. According to Corcoran, there were basically six types of data warehouse technology a decade or so back, but today there are 30 to 40. Meanwhile, organizations are also looking to take advantage of new technologies like Hadoop to support storage scale of unstructured data. “You have enterprise warehouses, data lakes, analytics and operational data, and data in the cloud – some of which is yours, and some of which is in the public domain,” he explained, and “it all has to fit together.” In addition, data acquisition has to be simple for the user. IB’s goal, he concluded, is “To make sure the data is accurate, massive and consistent across all the different systems.”
To this end, the company announced enhancements to its iWay software suite, including an MDM edition of Omni-Gen that shortens the time needed to produce a single version of the truth for corporate data – to develop data integrity and consistency. IB also announced the iWay Big Data Integrator, a simple user interface that runs inside the Hadoop cluster, allowing the organization to take advantage of Hadoop technology capabilities while also delivering data quality and process management as data moves through the repository. “Streaming in Hadoop,” noted Ballanco, is just one new feature in iWay BDI, which now functions as an end-to-end to suite that supports data management from the point of ingestion, through filtering and to the presentation of information.
Visualize and Operationalize
Data visualization has been the rage over the last couple of years, and Information Builders has also invested in R&D in this growing area. With the latest version of WebFOCUS, the company feels it has achieved more than catch up: “we’ve passed a lot of people in terms of innovation, and in terms of the capabilities you get in one core product,” Corcoran explained. But a key differentiator for IB is the ability of its software to operationalize insights – to push out content to more and more users within the organization who have different profiles, access and information needs: “The more we deliver better information to more non-technical users, the better the performance is of those [customer] companies,” he added. And a final step for customers is to move to where data is externalized, presented beyond the company firewalls to create a new source of business value.
IB’s belief in the importance of the broad user imperative is reflected in new editions for WebFOCUS 8.2.01 announced at the event. While the Enterprise Edition of the platform continues to combine all new capabilities and can scale to provide self-service for very large numbers of seats, IB also announced the Application Edition, which includes tools for analysts and InfoApps for everyone, as well as personalization and collaboration functionality for organizations with at least 100 users. And a final offering, the Business User Edition (BUE), delivers self-service for smaller numbers of business users and business analysts, the non-technical cadre within organizations who are increasingly impatient of IT or decision support departments’ slow report delivery. Recognizing that non-technical folks may require additional support, IB also announced a specialized program that includes technical videos, self-service learning (lessons and labs), a technical library of documentation with an indexed content search, a chat room with a BUE expert, as well as a community user group, the BUE lounge.
The new WebFOCUS editions feature a number of innovations aimed at simplifying data usage and distributing its benefits. For example, a “Gain Insights” button in the BUE generates metadata and content on behalf of the user, relying on automation to create reports for approximately 40 items that the software deems good candidates for analysis. This features offers the business user a simple means to start the analytics journey. At the Summit, Kevin Quinn, VP of BI products, delivered a neat demo of drag and drop “parameterization” or the population of parameters composed of different categories of data via mobile phone, for the quick delivery of visual reports to the handset. Data sources can be modified, or different categories chosen to further customization of output, and this ready access to interactive analytical content can replace an organization’s reliance on multiple, time consuming formal reports, reducing report numbers in some cases from hundreds to tens.
In addition, the WebFOCUS portal offers more control around objects and more governance, editing and collaboration functionality (worker chats, for example), operating as an “intelligent workspace” rather than as a dashboard. According to IB, WebFOCUS 8.2.01 provides more powerful data preparation and metadata options, enlargement of the visual library (new charts and map options), as well as enhanced security capabilities and simplified mobile deployment. WebFOCUS pages are now built on “responsive” templates and individuals can access this functionality to create their own pages, and easily transport them back to their own portals.
Information Builders innovation featured at Summit 2016 is designed to respond to shifts as well as ongoing market needs that are best understood by a long term player in the information industry. “The market opportunity is there in Big Data. People are talking about it,” noted Jake Freivald, VP marketing at Information Builders, and the company has put a lot of focus in the last couple of years on enabling the individual analysts to independently source and manipulate their own data. “The big change in the industry is that people expect to be able to use a tool,” he added. “It used to be that workers would ask IT for information and would consider themselves lucky if they got it, and would then use Excel or another tool for analysis. But this was a clunky process and this constituency now feels like they should be able to get what they ask for. This is a permanent change in the industry.”
At the same time, however, the company has seen continuing interest in what Freivald calls “Big BI,” where the user organization might have thousands of analysts who need to do complex analytics – more than sort and filter – and to operationalize the data. To support this level of activity, the organization needs “good data” with improved data quality for better operational reporting, or potentially ‘Big Data’ which IB addresses by processing data that is dumped into Hadoop without ETL treatment and analyzed from within.
With capabilities that simplify while addressing volume needs, Information Builders has been able to take advantage of market opportunity by reaching out to new industry segments – it is pushing into the community bank, or credit union part of the market, for example, with software that is accessible and capable. As Freivald explained, “the solutions that are out there for banks are so large, so complex and require so much professional services, that we are finding a good niche in the community banks.” And as with a growing number of new user markets that are looking to discover business value in information, “the community banks live off the data; it’s very important for them to monetize the information that that they already have.”