Information Builders unfazed by BI feeding frenzy

A 30-year veteran of the business intelligence (BI) industry, there is not much that fazes Information Builders founder and CEO Gerry Cohen. But even he admits that the events of the past year have been exceptional. “In less than a year, three of the largest BI companies were taken out by the super vendors,” he says. “That’s news.”

But as the brains behind one of the leading independent (and privately owned) BI vendors, which counts Lloyds of London and the Arcadia retail group among its flagship customers, he is not at home to the suggestion that the BI market’s days as a focal point of growth and innovation are numbered. “It’s still a huge industry; there are 25 companies left out there,” he says.

And those that are left are the ones that drive BI forward. “All the innovation comes from the independent players,” he says, adding that the exceptions to that rule are those that have been acquired.

“I’ve been in the BI business for 32 years, and it’s still the same business. What’s changing is the scale of the system."

Gerry Cohen, CEO
Information Builders

“There’s no doubt that the innovation at Business Objects stopped dead. For four years there was no new major release until XI came out in 2005. That’s why they had to start buying so many companies,” Cohen says. “And the same thing happened at Cognos.”

The reason why companies such as his and fellow BI stalwart SAS will continue to drive innovation is because of the personnel they can attract.

“If you want to cash in your stock and get rich, you work for a start-up, and if you want a lot of vacations, go and work for a super vendor,” he explains. “But if you are a good technician and you want a company where you can produce software and see it sold, you go to the independents like us.”

So where are the frontiers for innovation in BI that will help to preserve it as a stand-alone industry? From Cohen’s point of view, the days of “whiz-bang” innovation in the core area of analytics are over. What continues to evolve is the way information is distributed among people.

“I’ve been in the BI business for 32 years, and it’s still the same business,” he says. “What’s changing is the scale of the system. When we had green-screen mini-computers, we could deliver to a thousand users. With client-server, we could do tens of thousands, and with the Internet, we can deliver to millions of people.”

US Bank, for example, uses an Information Builders application to deliver active credit card account reports to over a million customers.

Scale, says Cohen, is an area in which his company excels over some of its now-assimilated opposition. “We beat Business Objects [in customer trials] because if you try to put more than 50 users on their system, it dies.”

The next frontier of information distribution is mobility, says Cohen. “In five years’ time, everybody will have smart-phones. That will open up another 100 million Internet users.”

Hence the release in November 2007 of WebFOCUS Mobile Favorites, a system that delivers active reports to mobile devices. Users can dice and query email reports because the analysis engine is embedded in the HTML of the message.

Along with the cross-pollination of BI and search, mobility provides Information Builders with sufficient scope for innovation to stay in the game.

But how is the company performing today? “We’ve had the best year of the century,” says Cohen, enigmatically.

Further reading

Cognos falls for IBM

Business intelligence market consolidation SAP buys Business Objects; Cognos buys Applix

Find more stories in the Business Intelligence Briefing Room.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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