BCD Aims to Streamline Report Writing with Clover
October 18, 2005 Alex Woodie
Business Computer Design Int’l is developing new business intelligence software that it says will enable managers and power users to quickly and easily generate a variety of reports from iSeries data, without involving programmers. The new product, called Clover, is based on BCD’s popular Web application development and runtime software, and is slated for availability early next year.
There’s a powerful temptation for developers of programming tools to build the applications most commonly developed using their tools, and to sell it to customers as a shrink-wrapped product. It’s a fairly typical occurrence in the OS/400 software market, and not a bad thing really. After all, when you help scores of customers build the same application, you get a fairly good idea of what they’re looking for, and can save them a lot of time, effort, and money by doing the bulk of the design and programming work for them. As long as some degree of flexibility is maintained (and it usually is, considering the vendors’ heritage in development tools, and inclination to sell licenses for those tools as part of the deal), then it’s a win-win for all involved.
This is basically what BCD is doing with Clover, a new Web-based query tool it unveiled at the COMMON conference in Orlando, Florida, last month. Clover will function as a plug-in to BCD’s WebSmart Interactive Development Environment (IDE), and is slated as a graphical, Web-based replacement for Query/400, which everybody seems to love to hate.
Clover expands the basic WebSmart IDE with report-generation capabilities that eliminate the need to know SQL. The software features an array of prompts, wizards, and templates to help users who aren’t SQL experts generate a variety of reports, charts, and graphs to guide business decisions (although it helps to know the layout of one’s fields and files). Once reports are defined, Clover helps business managers and executives keep abreast of the latest production data captured by their iSeries systems via business intelligence “dashboard” applications, or executive information systems (EIS) programs, which can be created and maintained with Clover.
Chief among Clover’s key attributes is the SQL Wizard, a graphical, drag-and-drop interface that guides the user through the process of writing and testing the SQL statements that pull data from the DB2/400 database. After choosing a template, the wizard prompts the user through the rest of the process, which includes: selecting one or more files to include in the report; defining how they are to be joined and sorted; selecting level breaks for subtotals and which fields should be subtotaled; choosing simple or complex conditions for record selections; and defining chart and graph captions.
After defining a report using the templates and wizard, the user hits the “generate” button, and sits back and watches the wizard go to work generating the SQL statements. If the preview of the report looks good, the user hits the “launch” button, and the query is run against the database. An automated syntax checker and a formula builder round out the wizard’s feature set, while a window displaying raw SQL code is also provided, for hard-core SQL-heads who are into that sort of thing.
Reports generated using Clover are delivered via IBM‘s HTTP Server (the one that’s powered by Apache) to Web browsers using HTML. Alternatively, they can be output to PCs in the Microsoft Excel format. BCD plans to provide a PDF option with a future release. It also has plans to let companies distribute and access reports via Nexus, a shrink-wrapped Web portal program it built on top of WebSmart, which is also slated for an upgrade early next year. (Clover is not the first application written with the WebSmart tooling.) BCD is also considering setting Clover free from the WebSmart IDE and letting the product run on its own.
Clover version 1.0 is currently being tested by WebSmart users, and is slated for availability in January, BCD officials say. A license to run the product in a single iSeries partition, and to support an unlimited number of users, will cost $9,000. However, if you buy Clover in conjunction with WebSmart (or if you already have WebSmart), the license fee drops to $4,950. For more information, visit www.bcdsoftware.com.