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Information Builders announced two major new products at its recent annual user summit. The first was InfoDiscovery, a tool for ad hoc data analysis and visual discoveryThe second was iWay Sentinel, which allows administrators to manage applications in a proactive and dynamic manner. Being a privately held company, Information Builders is not a household name, but it is a major provider of highly scalable business intelligence (BI) and information management software to companies around the world.

VRMobileBIVI_HotVendorThis year’s announcements come one year after the release of WebFOCUS 8.0, which I wrote about at the time. Version 8.0 of this flagship BI product includes a significant overhaul of the underlying code base, and its biggest change is how it renders graphics by putting the parameters of the HTML5 graph code directly inside the browser. This approach allows consistent representation of the business intelligence graphics in multiple device environments including mobile ones. Our research into information optimization shows that mobile technology improves business performance significantly in one out of three organizations. The graphics capability helped Information Builders earn the rating of Hot vendor in our latest Value Index on Mobile Business Intelligence. It is an increasingly important trend to combine analytics with transactional systems in a mobile environment. Our research shows that mobile business intelligence is advancing quickly. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of participants said they expect their mobile workforce to have BI capabilities in the next 12 months.

vr_Big_Data_Analytics_12_benefits_of_visualizing_big_dataWebFOCUS InfoDiscovery represents the company’s new offer in the self-service analytics market. For visual discovery it enables users to extract, blend and prepare data from various data sources such as spreadsheets, company databases and third-party sources. Once the analytic data set is created, users can drill down into the information in an underlying columnar database. They can define queries as they go and examine trends, correlations and anomalies in the data set. Users given permission can publish the visualization from their desktop to the server for others to view or build further. Visualization is another area of increasing importance for organizations. Our research on big data analytics said data visualization has a number of benefits; the most-often cited are faster analytics (by 49%), understanding content (48%), root-cause analysis (40%) and displaying multiple result sets at the same time (40%).

InfoDiscovery is Information Builders’ contender in the new breed of visual discovery products. The first generation of visual discovery products drew attention for their visual capabilities, ease of use and agility. More recently, established business intelligence vendors, of which Information Builders is one, have focused on developing visual discovery tools on the platform of their well-known BI products, with the aim of taking advantage of their maturity. Currently this second wave of tools is still behind the first in terms of ease of use and visual analysis but are advancing rapidly, and they can provide better data governance, version control, auditing and user security. For instance, InfoDiscovery uses the same metadata as the enterprise platform WebFOCUS 8 so objects from both InfoDiscovery and other WebFOCUS applications can be configured in the same user portal. When a business user selects a filter, the data updates across all the components in the dashboard. The HTML5 rendering engine, new in WebFOCUS 8.0, makes the dashboard available to various devices including tablets and smartphones.

vr_oi_how_operational_intellegence_is_usedThe other major announcement at the conference, iWay Sentinel, is a real-time application monitoring tool that helps administrators manage resources across distributed systems. It works with iWay Service Manager, which is used to manage application workflows. IWay Sentinel allows multiple instances of Service Manager to be viewed and managed from a single Web interface, and administrators can address bottlenecks in system resources both manually and automatically. The tool belongs in the category we call operational intelligence and as our research finds, activity and event monitoring is the most important use (for 62% of research participants), followed by alerting and notification.

Sentinel is an important product in the Information Builders portfolio for a couple of reasons. Tactically speaking, it enables large organizations that are running multiple implementations of iWay Service Manager to manage infrastructure resources in a flexible and streamlined manner. From a strategic perspective, it ties the company to the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), which connects devices and real-time application workflows across a distributed environment. In such an environment, rules and processes flows must be monitored and coordinated in real time. Information is passed along an enterprise service bus that enables synchronous interaction of various application components. The use of IoT is in multiple areas such as remote management of devices, telematics and fleet management, predictive maintenance, supply chain optimization, and utlilities monitoring. The challenge is that application software is often complex and its processes are interdependent. For this reason, most approaches to the IoT have been proprietary in nature. Even so, Information Builders has a large number of clients in various industries, especially retail, that may be interested in its approach.

Information Builders continues to innovate in the changing IT industry and business demand for analytics and data, building on its integration capabilities and its core business intelligence assets. The breadth and depth of its software portfolio enable the company to capitalize on these assets as demand shifts. For instance, temporal analysis is becoming more important; Information Builders has built that capability into its products for years. In addition, the company’s core software is hardened by years of meeting high-concurrency needs. Companies that have thousands of users need this type of scalable, battle-tested system.

Both iWay Sentinel and InfoDiscovery are in limited release currently and will be generally available later this year. Users of other Information Builders software should examine InfoDiscovery and assess its fit in their organizations. For business users it offers a self-service approach on the same platform as the WebFOCUS enterprise product. IT staff can uphold their governance and system management responsibilities through visibility and flexible control of the platform. For its part iWay Sentinel should interest companies that have to manage multiple instances of information applications and use iWay Service Manager. In particular, retailers, transportation companies and healthcare companies exploring IoT uses should consider how it can help.

Information Builders is exploiting the value of data into what is called information optimization for which they are finding continued growth in providing information applications that meet specific business and process needs. Information Builders is also beginning to further exploit the big data sources and mobile technology areas but will need to further invest to ensure it can be part of a spectrum of new business needs. I continued to recommend any company that must serve a large set of employees in the workforce and has a need for blending data and analytics for business intelligence or information needs to consider Information Builders.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

Ventana Research recently completed the most comprehensiveVRMobileBIVI evaluation of mobile business intelligence products and vendors available anywhere today. The evaluation includes 16 technology vendors’ offerings on smartphones and tablets and use across Apple, Google Android, Microsoft Surface and RIM BlackBerry that were assessed in seven key categories: usability, manageability, reliability, capability, adaptability, vendor validation and TCO and ROI. The result is our Value Index for Mobile Business Intelligence in 2014. The analysis shows that the top supplier is MicroStrategy, which qualifies as a Hot vendor and is followed by 10 other Hot vendors: IBM, SAP, QlikTech, Information Builders, Yellowfin, Tableau Software, Roambi, SAS, Oracle and arcplan.

Our expertise, hands on experience and the buyer research from our benchmark research on next-generation business intelligence and on information optimization informed our product evaluations in this new Value Index. The research examined business intelligence on mobile technology to determine organizations’ current and planned use and the capabilities required for successful deployment.

What we found was wide interest in mobile business intelligence and a desire to improve the use of information in 40 percent of organizations, though adoption is less pervasive than interest. Fewer than half of organizations currently access BI capabilities on mobile devices, but nearly three-quarters (71%) expect their mobile workforce to be able to access BI capabilities in the next 12 months. The research also shows strong executive support: Nearly half of executives said that mobility is very important to their BI processes.

Mobile_BI_Weighted_OverallEase of access and use are an important criteria in this Value Index because the largest percentage of organizations identified usability as an important factor in evaluations of mobile business intelligence applications. This is an emphasis that we find in most of our research, and in this case it also may reflect users’ experience with first-generation business intelligence on mobile devices; not all those applications were optimized for touch-screen interfaces and designed to support gestures. It is clear that today’s mobile workforce requires the ability to access and analyze data simply and in a straightforward manner, using an intuitive interface.

The top five companies’ products in our 2014 Mobile Business Intelligence Value Index all provide strong user experiences and functionality. MicroStrategy stood out across the board, finishing first in five categories and most notably in the areas of user experience, mobile application development and presentation of information. IBM, the second-place finisher, has made significant progress in mobile BI with six releases in the past year, adding support for Android, advanced security features and an extensible visualization library. SAP’s steady support for the mobile access to SAP BusinessObjects platform and support for access to SAP Lumira, and its integrated mobile device management software helped produce high scores in various categories and put it in third place. QlikTech’s flexible offline deployment capabilities for the iPad and its high ranking in assurance-related category of TCO and ROI secured it the fourth spot. Information Builders’ latest release of WebFOCUS renders content directly with HTML5 and its Active Technologies and Mobile Faves, the company delivers strong mobile capabilities and rounds out the top five ranked companies. Other noteworthy innovations in mobile BI include Yellowfin’s collaboration technology, Roambi’s use of storyboarding in its Flow application.

Although there is some commonality in how vendors provide mobile access to data, there are many differences among their offerings that can make one a better fit than another for an organization’s particular needs. For example, companies that want their mobile workforce to be able to engage in root-cause discovery analysis may prefer tools from Tableau and QlikTech. For large companies looking for a custom application approach, MicroStrategy or Roambi may be good choices, while others looking for streamlined collaboration on mobile devices may prefer Yellowfin. Many companies may base the decision on mobile business intelligence on which vendor they currently have installed. Customers with large implementations from IBM, SAP or Information Builders will be reassured to find that these companies have made mobility a critical focus.

To learn more about this research and to download a free executive summary, please visit http://www.ventanaresearch.com/bivalueindex/.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

Vice President and Research Director

A few months ago, I wrote an article on the four pillars of big data analytics. One of those pillars is what is called discovery analytics or where visual analytics and data discovery combine together to meet the business and analyst needs. My colleague Mark Smith subsequently clarified the four types of discovery analytics: visual discovery, data discovery, information discovery and event discovery. Now I want to follow up with a discussion of three trends that our research has uncovered in this space. (To reference how I’m using these four discovery terms, please refer to Mark’s post.)

The most prominent of these trends is that conversations about visual discovery are beginning to include data discovery, and vendors are developing and delivering such tool sets today. It is well-known that while big data profiling and the ability to visualize data give us a broader capacity for understanding, there are limitations that can be vr_predanalytics_predictive_analytics_obstaclesaddressed only through data mining and techniques such as clustering and anomaly detection. Such approaches are needed to overcome statistical interpretation challenges such as Simpson’s paradox. In this context, we see a number of tools with different architectural approaches tackling this obstacle. For example, Information Builders, Datameer, BIRT Analytics and IBM’s new SPSS Analytic Catalyst tool all incorporate user-driven data mining directly with visual analysis. That is, they combine data mining technology with visual discovery for enhanced capability and more usability. Our research on predictive analytics shows that integrating predictive analytics into the existing architecture is the most pressing challenge (for 55% or organizations). Integrating data mining directly into the visual discovery process is one way to overcome this challenge.

The second trend is renewed focus on information discovery (i.e., search), especially among large enterprises with widely distributed systems as well as the big data vendors serving this market. IBM acquired Vivisimo and has incorporated the technology into its PureSystems and big data platform. Microsoft recently previewed its big data information discovery tool, Data Explorer. Oracle acquired Endeca and has made it a key component of its big data strategy. SAP added search to its latest Lumira platform. LucidWorks, an independent information discovery vendor that provides enterprise support for open source Lucene/Solr, adds search as an API and has received significant adoption. There are different levels of search, from documents to social media data to machine data,  but I won’t drill into these here. Regardless of the type of search, in today’s era of distributed computing, in which there’s a need to explore a variety of data sources, information discovery is increasingly important.

The third trend in discovery analytics is a move to more embeddable system architectures. In parallel with the move to the cloud, architectures are becoming more service-oriented, and the interfaces are hardened in such a way that they can integrate more readily with other systems. For example, the visual discovery market was born on the client desktop with Qlik and Tableau, quickly moved to server-based apps and is now moving to the cloud. Embeddable tools such as D3, which is essentially a visualization-as-a-service offering, allow vendors such as Datameer to include an open source library of visualizations in their products. Lucene/Solr represents a similar embedded technology in the information discovery space. The broad trend we’re seeing is with RESTful-based architectures that promote a looser coupling of applications and therefore require less custom integration. This move runs in parallel with the decline in Internet Explorer, the rise of new browsers and the ability to render content using JavaScript Object Notation (JSON). This trend suggests a future for discovery analysis embedded in application tools (including, but not limited to, business intelligence). The environment is still fragmented and in its early stage. Instead of one cloud, we have a lot of little clouds. For the vendor community, which is building more platform-oriented applications that can work in an embeddable manner, a tough question is whether to go after the on-premises market or the cloud market. I think that each will have to make its own decision on how to support customer needs and their own business model constraints.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

Information Builders  (IBI) was as the highest ranked vendor in Ventana Research’s Business Intelligence Value Index for 2012. The combination of data integration, business analytics, visual and dataBI_VentanaResearch2012_HotVendor discovery and performance management software in a single framework allows the company to address a range of both IT and business user needs and gives it a measure of advantage in an intensely competitive market. At the same time, emerging trends are disrupting the BI category, which seemed mature not long ago. The 2013 IBI user conference in Orlando showed how the company is addressing these industry trends. (For analysis of last year’s event, see my colleague Mark Smith’s comments).

At the core of the IBI strategy are its WebFocus 8.0 platform and iWay, its information management suite of software. Our benchmark research into Business Technology Innovation shows that data preparation and quality are critical challenges and time consuming activities impacting analysts in 42 percent of organizations, so information management must be part of any general discussion of business intelligence. The latest release, iWay 7, was announced at the conference. It can integrate more than 300 data sources using prebuilt adapters and handles data preparation and quality and multidomain master data management. Management spun off iWay into a separate operating company but brought it back into the core business recently as executives recognized the trend toward big data and what we call information optimization. The combination of data integration with business intelligence is a critical factor for business intelligence companies in large part because big data integration is essential to big data analytics. The ability to denormalize data and combine diverse data into a wide single view of an analytical data set is an important aspect of big data analytics. Information Builders uses the iWay and a columnar database called Hyperstage running on commodity servers to handle these big data challenges.

The picture of how WebFocus 8 addresses emerging BI trends is becoming clearer. The first of these trends is the necessity for self-vr_ngbi_br_importance_of_bi_technology_considerationsservice and ease of use in business intelligence tools. Our next-generation business intelligence benchmark research shows that usability is the most critical buying criterion for nearly two-thirds (63%) of organizations. IBI has prepared its applications for a broad user base through capabilities that enable the Web-based WebFocus to deliver features normally associated with desktop software. Additional functionality provided through InfoAssist, a component of WebFocus 8, helps power users explore data, define metrics and publish information without coding. Additionally, the suite now includes Visual Discovery, which has data mashup and discovery capabilities that enable analysts to look at data without a predefined schema and find relationships that may not have been apparent previously. Location analytics technology from ESRI, a long-time leader in location intelligence, can be incorporated into the analysis as well. Location analytics has not been given a lot of attention, but it is gaining more recognition, according to our recent location analytics benchmark research. Finally, Magnify offers a search capability for both structured and unstructured data, which helps users find business content across the enterprise. While Magnify presents a valuable search tool for analysts, the product appears to be suffering from lack of awareness. In a session on self-service BI, few attendees had even heard of it.

Analytics applied to social media is another hot topic in business, and IBI has made significant advancements with its Social Media Integration application, also part of WebFocus 8. It enables users to examine posts, blogs and other social data to detect patterns in customer opinions. Sentiment algorithms that interpret and quantify the inherent complexities of language are provided as a third-party Web service or a REST adapter. Users can search via the Magnify tool and receive a robust contextual inquiry experience with tag clouds, quantitative information around mentions, and sentiment on a scale from very negative to very positive. Users can assign thresholds based on numeric value and assign appropriate stakeholders to follow up. Many marketing departments are using ad-hoc tools to drive these types of initiatives, but ultimately it makes more sense to place these queries within the context of their business intelligence initiatives; social information alone has limited value, but when married with internal metrics such as customer lifetime value, it has much more impact.

On another increasingly important front, mobile business intelligence ranks as a business priority among the six areas of technology innovation that Ventana Research studies. IBI takes a hybrid HTML5vr_ngbi_br_what_capabilities_matter_for_mobile_bi approach to mobile intelligence and analytics. That is, a user downloads a native shell from an online store associated with a particular device, and then the content is rendered through the browser via HTML5. Seeing the mobile trend early, IBI completely rewrote its charting engine to support HTML5 and Mobile Favs on the native side. This method exploits native gestures, while at the same time designers benefit from a develop once, deploy anywhere strategy. While our research shows that mobile users still prefer native applications over HTML5, the pendulum may be swinging. In December 2012 W3C, the body that oversees the HTML5 standard, agreed on candidate recommendations, which means that important companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft have accepted standards to be implemented by the larger development community. This will help HTML5 vendors including IBI. IBI’s Mobile strategy provides robust dashboard and portal access which is a high priority for 36% of users, however IBI should work to make improvements that leverage prescriptive analytics and operational capabilities to drive proactive alerts and notifications which are the top capabilities mentioned by 42% of mobile BI users.

IBI’s cloud initiative is in the form of platform as a service (PaaS). As opposed to infrastructure as a service or software as a service, PaaS provides both infrastructure and a development environment for BI applications. IBI’s product encompasses service level agreements for testing, validation and production environments with performance tuning, database provisioning and network management. The company has 10 international data centers, which helps to overcome regulatory challenges associated with international data movement. IBI does not have a “pay as you go” usage model but treats it more as a professional service based on assessment. This matches the company’s intended brand image as a service-oriented provider. In the bigger picture of cloud computing, BI is a laggard with only a few percent of participants in our research actually having adopted cloud-based BI. Security and data movement are the biggest perceived obstacles among those organizations.

In the area of predictive analytics, IBI has embedded RStat, which uses the open source R statistical language and can be accessed vr_predanalytics_predictive_analytics_obstacleswithin Developer Studio or as part of its WebFocus BI product. While the customers I spoke with are still building their models outside the IBI system, they suggested that the models will be translated back into RStat and scored within the IBI system. Predictive analytics is a challenge for many business intelligence vendors, which until now have dealt in historical data and simple descriptive statistics. Traditional relational databases are able to provide basic descriptive functions such as min, max, sum and mean, but more advanced functions have been beyond their scope. Our benchmark research on predictive analytics shows that the difficulty of integrating predictive analytics into a current information architecture is the biggest obstacle to predictive analytics for more than half (55%) of organizations.

In a broader analytics discussion with its product leaders Kevin Quinn and Rado Katorov, an interesting analytic concept that bears on data discovery was revealed. Simpson’s Paradox is the idea that a trend that appears in a single group disappears, and often reverses itself, when combined with other data. For instance, in 1973, the University of California Berkeley was sued for discrimination against women based on the fact that 44 percent of male applicants were admitted but only 35 percent of women were admitted. While the difference is indeed significant, when the data is looked at on a departmental basis, an interesting causal variable emerges. That is, men were applying to the easier programs and women were applying to the more difficult programs. Thus it was concluded that the disparity was not due to discrimination but rather to men who applied to the university that year may simply have been a bit lazier than the women applying. The point for analytics is that many discovery tools in the market today often rely on people to make discoveries based on single groupings of variables, and such discoveries may be misleading or worse. IBI’s approach to this issue is to use data reduction techniques such as cluster analysis that allow the data to group itself in an a-priori manner, thus making it easier for the analyst to recognize important patterns among groups of variables rather than just single variables. In the Berkeley admission example, for instance, IBI’s system presumably would have linked the difficulty of the program with gender, and that insight could perhaps have prevented the lawsuit from even being filed.

In sum, IBI has a strong base in large and midsize companies due to itsVR_leadershipwinner posture as more than a BI company. Our recent recognition of Scott Franzel at OFS Brands with the 2013 Overall IT Leadership Award for their use of Information Builders is another example of its business intelligence software helping organizations and individuals be successful. IBI’s success in extending BI to a broader base of stakeholders in both B2B and B2C markets allows the company to keep up with current trends and is at the center of the company’s big data and analytics initiatives. Companies that have already deployed WebFocus should look at the extended capabilities of version 8 and in particular the opportunity to brand information as a service throughout the organization. On a broader basis, any business group or IT department that is trying to take a customer-driven approach to business intelligence should consider IBI.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

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