IT industry analysts have a name for it: ‘robust reporting’. While the task of churning out business reports for an organisation’s middle and upper management, usually via an overnight batch run, has always been regarded as the ‘grunt’ work of programming, in recent years a wave of web-based tools has emerged that not only gives the users the chance to generate their own reports ‘on demand’, but also delivers reports – and the capability to analyse them – to a vastly larger group of users.
Gerry Cohen, CEO of business intelligence software company Information Builders, plucks an example from the cutting edge: one large US bank that has bought the company’s WebFocus business intelligence software wants to
delivery indivdualised reports made up of text, tables and graphs of customers’ account history consolidated from multiple back-end data sources to no less than 60,000 users. And it wants to do that frequently, over the web, and for the delivery process to take less an hour.
At this stage, such volumes are exceptional, says Cohen, but lots of customers are already regularly delivering reports to 15,000 external users or more – from frequent flier and credit card statements for consumers to sales reports for mobile managers. Hence the analysts’ reference to robustness.
Such levels of information delivery are only possible through a mix of far-reaching data integration technology and business intelligence software that has been completely rewritten for the web. It needs to be able to tap into multiple databases, schedule reports, provide a means for users to subscribe to set reports, publish the output to web sites or to email, and archive old reports – an increasingly important aspect in a corporate world concerned about who was aware of what and when.
Information Builders is not unique in trying to address these requirements. Other specialists in this area include Actuate and Crystal Decisions. But while the majority of the leading business intelligence companies – Cognos, Business Objects, and SAS, for example – have focused on query and data analysis technologies, Information Builders is seeing the market swing towards its strength.
“Enterprise reporting has become much more important than query and analysis,” argues Dave Sandel, vice president of Information Builders’ business intelligence products group. “Given the number of users of enterprise reporting, these data analysis products are arguably niche. And in enterprise reporting we are clearly winning,” says Sandel.
That is difficult to corroborate, given that Crystal and Information Builders are both privately-owned, and the other BI vendors do not break out separate sales figures for reporting.
However, there are some clear pointers. Cohen says revenues at Information Builders are likely to be flat for 2002 at around $300 million. But that lack of growth is a result of the declining revenues from the company’s older products lines – its Focus application development environment and its EDA/SQL data access lines.
On the other hand, WebFocus revenues have been growing by around 35%, according to Sandel. It has largely achieved this by tapping into the existing base of 12,000 customer sites. By Sandel’s account, a quarter have now adopted WebFocus, and a large proportion is also using the company’s data and applications integration software, sold by its iWay Software unit. That division has not seen as strong revenue growth, however, largely because prices in the integration software market are tumbling, having fallen by half over the past two years, according to John Sutor, head of iWay.
Nonetheless, that integration software is a key element for the company. “Our strengths shine through when customers have diverse information sources that are a little bit more difficult to get at,” says Cohen.
Its strategic growth aside, Information Builders cannot afford to stand still. Analysts, such as Howard Dresner at Gartner, highlight a convergence in the business intelligence market that it needs to address. “Business intelligence suites and robust reporting have remained distinct for years, yet have competed for many of the same customers. Now, there are definite signs the two will become one,” says Dresner.
Business Objects, Cognos, Brio and others have consistently improved the reporting features of their products with each new release. And reporting vendors need to match that with strengthened data analysis products, he adds. Gartner argues that only a handful of vendors will have delivered that combined functionality by the end of 2003.
While Information Builders easily makes that list, along with Business Objects, Cognos and Crystal Decisions, it will face a much harsher competitive climate as the consolidation intensifies.