NGS Boosts BI Offerings for System i
March 27, 2007 Alex Woodie
System i shops looking to build new Web-based dashboard applications may want to take a look at the latest offerings unveiled by New Generation Software this month. NGS has delivered a new release of its flagship IQ Server and a new release of its Business Performance Dashboard that should make it easier for System i shops to deliver graphical dashboard views of their DB2/400 data, without the level of data massaging that it once required.
NGS launched its Business Performance Dashboard in November 2005 as a way to present non-technical users and executives with data from DB2/400 in the form of charts, tables, gauges, maps, and other visualization tools. Instead of requiring users to write queries and then interpret the business significance of the numeric output, Dashboard presents key performance indicators (KPIs) graphically in a Web browser as defined by the 150-plus templates included with the product, and then does the grunt work of continually updating and refreshing that information from DB2/400 (via hooks into the NGS-IQ server), without additional work or input from the user.
With the delivery of Business Performance Dashboard version 4.5 this month, NGS has improved the integration between the Dashboard and NGS-IQ, particularly as it relates to summary data and generation of the XML that underlies the Dashboards. (While NGS Dashboards are delivered as Adobe Macromedia Flash presentations, the underlying data exchange mechanism between the Dashboard and IQ Server is XML.)
According to NGS, IQ Server now assigns results of report break summary and field calculations their own, individual XML tags when users output to XML, a new capability that provides greater flexibility when generating XML files and simplifying the development of dashboard applications from DB2/400 data. Version 4.5 also gives users the option of exporting dashboards to Microsoft Word, in addition to Excel, PowerPoint, and HTML.
Fine-tuning the look and feel of NGS dashboards is also easier thanks to a new “panel set” component that enable users to navigate between files in a presentation, embed JPG or Flash animation files into the frames, and adjust formatting features. The new release also lets users add animation to their chart components, provide additional information for displaying stock market information (such as a stock’s opening, close, high, and low prices), and provides three new graphical “skins”: graphite, halo, and Windows classic.
NGS provides IT staff with the tools to make BI easy for business users to consume, says Bernard Gough, president of NGS. “It’s our job to really work with the IT staff, to give them the tools to allow them to look good, to give them what they need that doesn’t cost them a lot of overhead and that leaves them in charge of the data integrity,” he says. “With a minimal amount of training, even a small IT staff can have a working dashboard or OLAP [online analytical processing] in production within two weeks.”
Gough says Dashboard is gaining traction in the System i marketplace, where there is “definitely an uptick” in business intelligence spending. “We’re seeing a lot of activity in the market right now. [Dashboard] is involved in every sale and proposal,” he says. “The OLAP environment we provide is really slick and people love it, but it’s still an analyst-type person’s product. With Dashboard, we can touch a lot of people without a lot of training.”
Meanwhile, NGS also unveiled NGS-IQ version 6.5, a new release of its flagship product, which includes the of i5/OS-based IQ Server and Qport Access, the Windows-based client component. Qport SmartView, the company’s Windows-based OLAP offering for analyzing data across more than two dimensions, is an optional component of the NGS-IQ suite.
In addition to the above-mentioned enhancements to IQ Server that improves the delivery of XML to the Dashboard, NGS-IQ 6.5 benefits from other enhancements, including more options to work with dates and times. Users can now create date new fields from existing date fields, character fields, literal, or system values, and output the date new fields in a variety of formats, including MM/DD/YYYY, YYYY-MM-DD, DD.MM.YYYY, and YY/DDD. User can also incorporate forward slashes, hyphens, periods, commas, or blanks as the separator in the new field. New timestamp options have also been included.
Integration between Qport Access and Microsoft Office has also been enhanced with this release. NGS says users who like to work with DB2/400 data in Excel will appreciate the new feature that allows Qport Access to retain leading zeroes in an alphanumeric field when outputting a NGS-IQ query to Excel–an important capability for companies that enter zeros at the beginning of account numbers, part numbers, customer ID codes, or other fields and then to make sure that Excel doesn’t treat these numbers as numeric values.
Security has also been boosted with NGS-IQ 6.5 thanks to the new support for long and mixed-cased passwords when connecting from Qport Access to the System i and when attempting to invoke the FTP and Remote Network Output file functions. NGS says this feature will greatly increase the number of passwords that can be assigned.
NGS provides out-of-the-box support for a variety of i5/OS applications and DB2/400 data sources, such as the S2K ERP suite from VAI, which has been one of NGS’ most successful OEM relationships, Gough says. By mapping out the data paths to popular i5/OS applications before the product gets into customers hands, it makes it much faster to implement, he says.
In the coming weeks and months, NGS plans to announce pre-formatted support for two additional data sources. The first is an enhanced NGS IQ-based data mart for Siemens Medical Solutions‘ MedSeries 4 (MS4) systems. The second is for the creation of financial data marts based on i5/OS general ledger (GL) applications. “We see that as a big demand area, particularly with the bigger customers,” Gough says of the GL data mart.
NGS-IQ 6.5 and Business Performance Dashboard 4.5 are available now. Pricing for both starts at roughly $7,000 for 20-user, two-developer environments on P10 machines, but NGS has several pricing models to fit its customers’ needs. For more information, visit www.ngsi.com.