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If there is a gold mine in the software industry right now it is surely business intelligence. However, the business intelligence market is supposed to be consolidating and commoditising. In that case, why is it that there are a whole bunch of new vendors and products entering the market? I have spoken with four in just the last couple of weeks. Perhaps that’s not weird but it is certainly interesting. And even well-established players are coming up with innovative and fresh approaches to queries and reporting. Information Builders, for example, is very active in developing new ways in which business intelligence, particularly at the operational level, can be used. However, that is a story for another article, as are the other three newbies: the one I want to discuss today is ICS.
ICS (www.icsltd-uk.com) is a well-established (over ten years old) service company focused on the BI market. It has a client list that includes household names in both the public and private sector. While this isn’t actually the first product that the company has launched it is the first that the company expects to have a significant impact on the market and it has given the product, RSinteract, its own web site (www.rsinteract.com) to prove it.
RS (as the astute amongst you may have guessed) stands for Reporting Services, as in SQL Server Reporting Services and RSinteract is a tool for building and deploying reports based on Reporting Services. So, why would you want to use this in preference to the facilities provided by Microsoft?
To answer that you need to understand the options offered by Microsoft. With the previous version of SQL Server your only option was to use the Report Builder in Visual Studio. However, this is a developer tool. It is fine for building rich, strictly formatted reports and forms but it isn’t much use if you want to generate an ad hoc report and it is not suitable for end users.
To meet the needs of business users for less formal reporting, with SQL Server 2005 Microsoft has introduced a second product called Report Builder. While this is fine for quick, simple things it has a number of drawbacks. First, it requires you to download a smart client. Secondly, it has a different semantic data layer (because it is based on acquired technology) from SQL Server itself. Thirdly, you can only have one report on a page, you can’t display a chart and its data together, there is a restricted set of templates, the editor is separate from rather than a part of the product, and I could go on but you get the idea.
What ICS has done is build a tool that not only overcomes these issues it has much greater applicability. So, for example, it is a zero footprint product on the client, the editor is built in, there are extended template definition and reuse capabilities, there are additional report types supported, you can mix and match data and charts, you can create compound reports, and so on. The company has not yet built in support for the SQL Server semantic data layer but it will do so in due course.
As yet the company is only selling direct, and within the UK, however it is actively seeking re-sellers and partners both here and abroad. Target markets are both end-user organisations and ISVs that might want to use RSinteract to build reports into their own products.