New takes on operational business intelligence

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There are not many CEOs who are as passionate about their products as Gerry Cohen of Information Builders. This week (as I write) he has been in London to talk about his company and its products at its annual global forum.

One of the themes of the conference was the new ideas that the company has in the area of operational business intelligence. However, before I do that, I had better clarify what Information Builders means by operational BI. What it means is the information that you need to run your business on a day-to-day basis, at the sharp end. That is, the stuff that business users (not analysts) need to get their jobs done, whether that’s on the shop floor, in the warehouse, in the marketing department, or wherever. In other words, it is about managing business processes better.

Anyway, Gerry had a number of new areas of operational BI that he wanted to discuss that Information Builders is, or will be, implementing and I want to discuss three of these.

The first of is active reports with embedded analytics. The best way to illustrate what these are is by example. Suppose you receive a statement from your stockbroker every month, telling you the detail of each of your stockholdings and what you have traded over this period and their current value. Fair enough. But you might want some more detail. You might want to rank the increase in value from each of your stocks over the month, or you might want the same figures but by percentage rather than raw value. Or you might want some other form of analysis. This is what active reports provide you with: you can be sent an active report via e-mail and then, without having to access the stockbroker’s web site, and without needing any software on your PC other than a browser you can do precisely those sort of queries. Neat, huh? Now, turn it round and imagine you send out these documents—you provide additional service with reduced network traffic—also neat.

The second form of operational BI is discovery reporting, which is used to help you find things when you don’t know where they are. This uses iWay technology (iWay is a subsidiary of Information Builders) to monitor all the network traffic within your organisation and then apply Google indexing to the data that it monitors, so that you can use Google to search internally. More neat. You can also use WebFOCUS (the company’s 4GL-based BI and reporting tool) to create forms for search criteria so that you can do cleverer things than with Google on its own. Cool.

The third thing that Information Builders is doing that I want to describe is geographic BI. Now, this is not just drill-down from a map. This is generating maps (based on street addresses, mobile phone locations and so on) from reports and then, maybe, drilling down into the geography and creating a new report: in other words, two-way integration. Other features include the ability to drag and drop areas within a map, to see changes to the map over time, and so on. If you want location specific information this is more cool stuff.

Information Builders tends to be less well-known than it ought to be, not least because the company tends to be more technology-led than market-led. This is a direct consequence of Gerry’s passion—he is passionate about the technology and what it can do for his customers—don’t let the (relative) lack of marketing get in the way of seeing what the company can do.