IBM to Distribute Info Builders’ iSeries BI Tools
March 20, 2007 Alex Woodie
iSeries shops looking to take the next step beyond Query400 into the word of graphical (and still native) i5/OS business intelligence software will be presented the chance as a result of the distribution pact between Information Builders and IBM unveiled last week. As part of the deal, IBM will offer a special version of Info Builders’ WebFOCUS business intelligence software as an option when users buy a new system or upgrade to a new system.
Information Builders has been in the iSeries business intelligence business for nearly 20 years. Since the AS/400 was first launched in 1988, the New York City software company has sold its reporting tool, called FOCUS, to the user base. When the Internet took off and people wanted Web-based access to AS/400 data, the company sold them WebFOCUS. All along, the software ran natively on the platform, giving it an advantage (at least in IBM’s eyes), and today about 300 AS/400, iSeries, and System i customers use Info Builders’ software to analyze their data and generate reports.
That installed base is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering the general lack of enthusiasm that iSeries shops have shown for third-party business intelligence tools over the years. But that number has a real shot at being dwarfed now that IBM has agreed to bundle an OEM version of WebFOCUS with i5/OS and make it available as an option when customers buy new systems and upgrades.
It’s all about making it easy for users to get modern business intelligence tools, says Gerald Cohen, chief executive of Information Builders. “What’s significant is IBM is the first hardware vendor to put business intelligence as part of the operating system,” he says. “It gives IBM a leap ahead. They’re the only vendor bundling business intelligence with their platform.”
The IBM-Info Builders deal is aimed at two camps: those who use Query/400, and those who use Windows tools. Query/400, while it runs natively on the i5/OS server, is too inflexible, text-oriented, and old for customers looking for attractive reports and business output. Windows tools such as Excel generate nice-looking reports and are intuitive for people to use, but they’re not native to the i5/OS environment and they can create integration problems.
The answer, according to Info Builders, is WebFOCUS, a Java-based suite of tools that runs natively on i5/OS and generates attractive output. IBM and Info Builders are planning a special version of WebFOCUS (perhaps called iQuery, Powered by Information Builders), that will be available later this year (perhaps as early as July).
The special OEM version of WebFOCUS will also hold a special affinity and backwards compatibility with Query/400. According to Cohen, queries developed in Query/400 will be read as data within the WebFOCUS environment, enabling users to continue to run their old Query/400 queries. What’s more, customers will be able to enhance those queries with WebFOCUS, he says.
The challenge will be convincing users to move off Query/400 and try something new. According to Cohen, there are promising options for developing advanced applications once users get started with WebFOCUS. “Query/400 is primitive. It’s a toy. Most of our customers are running complete information systems” using Info Builders’ software, he says.
One of Info Builder’s customers is a hospital that generates all of its reports using WebFOCUS and iSeries data. “We have a very huge audience of iSeries customers, complete business intelligence information systems,” Cohen says. “Because we’re so successful on it, this is a nice way for people to get stared on it with no IT training. . . . It’s a nice upgrade for the community to get beautiful reports instead of green-screen query reports.”
Jim Herring, IBM’s director of System i products, agrees. “We know the importance of providing the Web-based business intelligence functionality necessary to support a modern organization and feel confident this new offering will do just that,” he says.
Herring says WebFOCUS has a good shot at attracting BI workloads to the i5/OS server. “Business intelligence continues to be an area of significant growth and, with so much of the world’s data being stored in DB2 databases, it makes sense for us to provide better analytical capabilities around that data,” he says.
When the special OEM version of WebFOCUS becomes available later this year, it will be bundled with IBM’s traditional green-screen query tools. By forcing users to pay a little more to get their traditional green-screen query tools, they’ll also be getting graphical Web query tools, and hopefully start using it.
Licenses for WebFOCUS currently start at about $1,200 per server for the smallest i5/OS server. For more information, see www.informationbuliders.com.