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Actuate Quietly Updates Flagship Reporting Suite

SP1 delivers a graphical metadata development tool, support for VBA, and a new scripting language

Last month, enterprise reporting stalwart Actuate Corp. announced an update for its flagship suite, Actuate 8.

The update, which the company released in the form of a service pack, is far from a collection of fixes. Instead, it refreshes the Actuate 8 suite—which shipped more than a year ago—with several new features, including a graphical metadata development tool, called Information Object Designer; support for Microsoft’s Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) in Actuate’s e.Spreadsheet tool; and MatrixScript, a new report scripting language for e.Spreadsheet.

(Surprisingly, Actuate itself didn’t publicize the release of Actuate 8 Service Pack (SP) 1. Instead, the company formally announced SP1 to attendees at its annual user conference last month. Given the improvements Actuate has made in the SP1 release, however, it’s odd that the company didn’t try to make a bigger splash, particularly in light of the notoriously slow summer news cycle.)

Philip Russom, TDWI’s senior manager of research and services, says that Actuate’s service pack further advances its concept of the “information object.” Says Russom, “From the beginning, Actuate differentiated itself by being the first to heavily apply object-orientation to business intelligence, an approach that produces a ‘report object.’ This encapsulates the presentation layer of a report, the data that populates the report, and a metadata layer, such that the report consumer can search and query the report. This enables the end user with a small and simple report viewer to query the dataset of a report without need for a server or network connection.”

Russom notes that Actuate has now evolved its approach toward the information object. Essentially, the information object sits under a report object, providing data access, network connections, data federation, and query optimization for report objects. This expands Actuate’s traditional approach—which one might call “query the report”—to “query the report, plus multiple data sources in an EII fashion.” (In fact, the enterprise information integration (EII) capabilities and other XML-based technologies that Actuate got when it acquired Nimble Technologies in 2003 are now fully incorporated into Actuate’s information objects.) Russom says this gives end-users a lot of drill through, data discovery, and parameterized reporting capabilities, while giving the report developer a methodology based on highly reusable components.

SP1 brings new capabilities to Actuate’s e.Reporting product (as described above), but it also enhances the company’s e.Spreadsheet product.

Russom continues: “Actuate has also made good on its promise to provide ‘closed loop’ support for spreadsheets. Now, almost any change an end-user makes to a spreadsheet can be written back to Actuate’s server, where it is versioned and made available to other collaborating end-users. After all, end-users inevitably want to play out “what if” scenarios in Excel, then share their brainchilds with collaborating colleagues. With the new closed-loop capability, end-users can more deeply collaborate over spreadsheets without losing any of the ‘value add’ coming from individuals in the form of formatting, charting, or calculations.”

Other notable extensions of Actuate 8 seen in SP1 include: change data capture for spreadsheets, EII that puts data from multiple sources into a single spreadsheet range (which ODBC can’t do), and rudimentary workflow (to give BI some process automation, which it sorely lacks).

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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