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Information Builders Hits Its Stride, Launches WebFOCUS 8

Information Builders hosted its annual user conference recently in Orlando, Florida. Analyst Cindi Howson looks at the three themes the company emphasized.

By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard

Information Builders hosted its annual user conference recently in Orlando, Florida, emphasizing the themes of intelligence, integrity, and integration.

President and founder Gerry Cohen kicked off the general session by reminding the over 1,000 attendees of the company's mission: to help all customers access all of their data and deliver it to all people who make decisions. The operative word here is "all," a point of difference as Information Builders pursues both enterprise and SMBs, data beyond the data warehouse, and BI for decision makers beyond power users.

Cohen talked about the four factors he believes are most influencing the BI landscape: big data, mobile, cloud, and analytics. In terms of big data, Information Builders has continued to add interfaces for big data sources such as Teradata, EMC Greenplum, HP Vertica, 1010 data, as well as Hadoop. Beyond this, the company also recently released WebFOCUS Hyperstage, a columnar database that promises 10-to-1 compression, but in some tests has achieved 40-to-1. It runs on commodity hardware, either Linux or Unix operating systems, with as little as 16 GB of RAM. The company has smartly bundled a trial version with the WebFOCUS server.

For mobile, Information Builders is betting heavily on HTML5 to provide device-agnostic, author once, render anywhere capabilities. The charting engine in WebFOCUS 8, released in April 2012, has been completely rewritten to render in HTML5. With a twist and nod to iPad users, they also provide an iPad app dubbed Mobile Favs that provides off-line capabilities as well. Cohen challenged customers to pay attention to Microsoft in the mobile market, speculating that Windows 8 will change the mobile market. Time will tell!

Although some larger vendors, such as MicroStrategy and SAP, have been pursuing BI in the cloud in their own data centers, Information Builders is taking more of a services and partner approach. Multitenant capabilities and more granular security are beefed up in WebFOCUS 8.

One of the coolest (and funniest) demos of the keynote goes to the WebFOCUS Facebook adaptor (see figure below). Sales engineer Dan Grady took real-world Facebook comments about Wal-Mart's promotional push in the steak market. Customer reaction and the explicit but well-harvested posts were enlightening. Many vendors, from niche to large BI vendors, are providing sentiment analysis, but the differences here were the integration with the BI platform, ease of implementation, and degree that a business user can investigate and drill down into the patterns.

Beyond the keynotes and track sessions, the customer sessions and one-on-ones shored up my view that one of Information Builders most important differentiators is its customer service. For example, International Financial Data Services Canada, a leading provider of investment funds recordkeeping and services, recently selected WebFOCUS over other BI solutions. Sara Hilliard, VP, product management explained, "We had all the vendors create dashboards and a set of reports. Information Builders did better, and at every opportunity they exceeded our expectations"

Echoing this thought, the CIO Maurice van Veghel from Sligro Food Group, a 2.4 billion Euro Dutch grocery chain, said in their proof of concept (POC) that they provided each vendor with sample data and business questions. In the POC demo, they changed the business question, much as happens to IT during development. "Whoever could best adapt to that change, that's who won."

What's been your experience with your BI vendors? Tell me here in the 2012 Successful BI Survey.

Regards, Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard

Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard, an independent analyst firm that advises companies on BI tool strategies and offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.

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