“It’s not about the pretty pictures, it’s about what you do with the data,” Information Builders CMO Michael Corcoran stressed in his welcome to a thousand attendees at the IB Summit 2017 in Texas this week. But what you can do with the data has much to do with how information is ingested, cleansed, translated, transformed, integrated, wrangled, filtered, analyzed, reported, visualized, shared and acted upon – a continuum of data processes that Corcoran urged analytics adopters to rethink as our increasingly connected world introduces new challenges to data trust. Independent market research conducted by IB has shown, he added, that 58 percent of executives do not trust their own data.
Over its 40-year history, Information Builders has developed expertise across the range of data management requirements with products aimed at delivering the data integrity, integration and intelligence (the 3 “I”s) needed to ensure this trust: and to drive the value imperative that Corcoran referenced in his opening address, the company has also focused, with the help of many customers present at Summit, on articulating the business case for BI and analytics implementations. In the company’s schema, the use of 3 “I” technologies to achieve clear goals – the “Data and Analytics Journey” – depends on four kinds of activities that are each necessary to the capture of new and sustainable business outcomes: Harmonize, Visualize, Operationalize and Monetize are processes that IB continues to support with new solutions that span the “Journey” spectrum. With the help of demo partners, Information Builders co-founder and CEO Gerry Cohen took advantage of Summit 2017 to outline key innovations in each of these areas (see video at article end).
Harmonize: DIY cleansing
For many organizations, creating the so called “Golden Record” can be a complex and lengthy process requiring time consuming manual effort to remove duplication, fill gaps and establish data consistency. To illustrate, Don Bowers, senior director, iWay Integrity products, offered an example in which six variations on the concept of gender had been used in different databases: when merged, the combined repository contained Female, female, Male, male, M, F and U (unknown) – six categories that did not accurately reflect truth about gender ID in the organization’s information bank. These and similar issues in data management are addressed through IB’s Omni-Gen, an automated platform consisting of data integration, cleansing and master data management “Editions” that build on each other to support the development of a single, complete, consistent, and unified view of business domains.
At Summit 2017, Bowers announced introduction of the Omni Data Quality Workbench (component of the Omni-Gen Data Quality Edition), a browser-based data cleansing tool featuring an intuitive graphical interface designed to quickly guide business users through processes that identify quality issues and the rules to correct them. Cohen described the Workbench as a “do-it-yourself” rules-based system that enables the business person who knows the most about the data to do his/her own cleansing without reference to the IT department, which might have other competing priorities.
Visualize: “What [and how quickly] can you tell me about Sony and Panasonic?”
In his presentation, Kevin Quinn, VP product marketing, Information Builders, described a new thumbnail-based front end for IB’s WebFOCUS business intelligence solution, featuring visual best practices for v 8.02 that include new style sheets, colour heat scales and extended chart plug ins. Using a new, responsive Page Designer, Quinn demoed rapid fire page creation, in which users pick a template that allows the drag and drop of content containers, their population with data, and the selection of presentation type (bar, line or pie chart, for example) to quickly build compelling InfoApps suited to mobile environments. As Quint noted, filters, date ranges, etc. can be applied; in addition, the containers can be unlocked to allow the user to specify content, enabling ongoing customization that will help keep the user up to date with current data needs. While formerly this kind of presentation would have to be built on a desktop using App Studio, according to Quinn, multi-content containers allow the designer to create the system on the web in a couple of minutes and empower the user to change content as needs change.
Quinn also outlined updates to InfoSearch, WebFOCUS search capability that enables the user to perform search analytics and to discover BI assets by searching on content titles, metadata and data elements. Reports can be accessed through a text-based type-ahead search index, or via voice through a Natural Language Processing (NPL) engine. According to Cohen, voice-based search is less NLP, which can tend towards ambiguity (cannot distinguish between delimiters like “and” or “or”), and more “cognitive search,” which supports really quick querying for simple problem solving – such as testing to see if content/data repositories are adequate to address requests for information.
Operationalize: performance enhancing… tools
In many organizations, IT is not typically consulted until a problem occurs. Over the years, IB executive director and chief architect ATS Mark Nesson has worked with IT staff to address concerns with application performance, which can become a significant issue in large-scale BI and analytics applications for critical operations in particular. To help, IB has developed a Usage Monitor that allows enterprises to scan WebFOCUS computers for bottlenecks that might impact performance. As Nesson explained in a demo of the tool, the Usage Monitor provides real time analysis of customer systems, showing individual usage of WebFOCUS servers – what resources they are consuming, what server and database time, what the performance is by data or time, how many reports the user ran and the response time they got, as well as average response time. The tool can also send alerts on issues such as CPU utilization, or for trouble shooting user complaints, can drill top down to the individual, viewing activity by the minute to see what procedure or code he/she was running to debug for the worker that may be experiencing slow response.
For customers looking for other delivery options beyond on premise, Information Builders introduced a new cloud delivery platform for its BI, analytics and data management solutions, which includes cloud managed hosting and support services. As Dan Ortolani, IB SVP, worldwide customer support services, explained, the IB Cloud is available in three formats: Pure Cloud, in which WebFOCUS and IWay operate in the cloud, where data also resides; Hybrid Cloud, in which the applications run in the cloud and data remains on premise; and Federated Cloud, in which applications and data can each operate in the cloud or on premise to support a phased approach to cloud adoption. This multi-option approach is designed to address varied customer needs for outsourcing infrastructure and support requirements, for retaining sensitive data locally, and for supporting migration activities. IB has also offered choice to customers in terms of public cloud provider – and has partnered with AWS, IBM Bluemix, Microsoft Azure and ORock Technologies, a specialist in secure private cloud, for the delivery of infrastructure resources.
Monetize: ask “What If?”
As Cohen noted in his introduction to IB’s “What if?” analysis, prescriptive analytics represents the most sophisticated variant of a series of analytics options: ‘descriptive’ tells the user what is happening, ‘diagnostic’ explains why it happened, ‘predictive’ foresees what is likely to happen and ‘prescriptive’ helps the user understand what can be done about a problem. While each of these types of analytics can be used to support better decision making, the call to action in prescriptive means this kind of intelligence is most closely aligned with monetization. By comparing predictions with desired outcomes, for example, users can learn to rethink assumptions or reengineer processes to produce better results. According to Information Builders, WebFOCUS is well positioned to deliver prescriptive capabilities, based on its ability to manage both structured and unstructured data (new data formats may stimulate new questions), its RStat integration, which provides a single platform for BI, data modeling and scoring to join the front and back ends of business operations, and its visualization features designed for intuitive use by non-technical business staff. To illustrate, IB senior technical specialist Porter Thorndike put WebFOCUS through its paces in a lively demo aimed at showcasing prescriptive capabilities. By adjusting the root variables in a customer case study, Thorndike was able to produce multiple different scenarios that align with specific goals, such as a “break even analysis” or “increase profitability.”
According to Thorndike, prescriptive analytics can also be built into InfoAssist, Information Builders’ tool for developing sophisticated data visualizations, to improve understanding of business intelligence, and into InfoApps (in his demo Thorndike created an InfoApp to analyze multiple products at the same time) to extend this capability throughout the user organization. Thorndike called this a “bottoms approach”: another term might be democratization of data, a goal that Information Builders has worked to achieve throughout its history, and also in new product announcements at Summit 2017. From the automation of data cleansing to intuitive, self-service visualization, and from tools to remove the complexity in cloud and on-prem infrastructure app delivery to the extension of advanced prescriptive capabilities beyond specialist groups, Summit announcements offered sound evidence of IB progress towards the creation of BI and analytics capabilities suited to the needs of the business user.