Info Builders Shrinks BI Apps with InfoMini
February 1, 2011 Alex Woodie
It’s a problem that has perplexed business intelligence tool builders for some time: How do you give users the capability to customize and personalize their reports, without burdening them with too many features and complicated options? The folks at Information Builders think they have found the perfect balance between functionality and simplicity with InfoMini, which allows administrators to expose as much or as little of the underlying query toolset as their users demand.
Info Builders hopes that, by giving administrators more latitude in satisfying the varying demands of their users, there will no longer be a need for time-consuming, one-off development projects for highly customized applications. A single development effort can now yield a spectrum of reporting functionality for different users, ranging from reports that are fully locked down for newbies, to reports that carry all of customization features of the full InfoAssist query tool.
Info Builder’s research revealed customers like the idea of using Web-based gadgets, such as the weather widget that many people install on their smart phones. It does one thing–reports the weather by Zip Code–and it does it very well. While the gadget paradigm is very attractive from the user-adoption point of view, it raises issues for long-term maintainability.
“We saw a lot demand for personalization and customization and gadget building, so we stepped back a bit and thought, ‘How can we provide a platform to build it, rather than each gadget being a one off?'” Rado Kotorov, Info Builder’s chief innovation officer, tells IT Jungle. “People want interactivity, but they don’t want the whole tool. One way to deliver this is to build an application, but that takes time. So we felt that InfoMini hits this middle ground, which is highly customizable. It’s not a tool. It’s a mini application.”
Administrators can select from one of three modes for their InfoMini applications: interactive, edit, and InfoAssist. Interactive mode lets users change a report format or add a heading, but doesn’t let users alter a query or use filters. (Curiously, it doesn’t allow full interactivity.) The edit mode gives users more functionality, including the capability to filter results and add fields, but still doesn’t offer full interactivity. InfoAssist mode gives users the full features of the query tool, including access to the interactive canvas. The tool employs the ribbon user interface functionality that Microsoft adopted with Office 07.
Users can create an unlimited number of permutations of InfoAssist features with InfoMini, Kotorov says. “That was our goal, to give them this versatile ability, because we can’t predict every type of report that will be required,” he says. “We didn’t want the analyst to be concerned. We said, ‘Here’s an a la carte menu of features available in InfoAssist. You just select which one of them you want to package together with this report to make it simple and intuitive, but still interactive for the end user.”
Information Builders has been trying to democratize business intelligence for some time. The company expects to give customers a major ease-of-use enhancement with the forthcoming WebFOCUS version 8, which was announced about a year ago. Its release has been delayed until later this year, as developers focus on implementing a major change to the security model without compromising user adoptability, according to Kotorov.
“As is typical with WebFOCUS, and as Jerry [Gerald Cohen, Info Builder’s CEO] mandates to be done every time, the migration should be as painless as possible,” Kotorov says. “So we actually had to re-evaluate plans and delay to an extent the product because we wanted to be sure that there would be a full migration possible and tools and everything available to the customers. The initial thought was that we could display old pages as they are, so if you have existing dashboards, they can display as they are. But Jerry insisted on making make them compatible to the new security model, so they can be personalized and customized too.”
InfoMini was developed alongside some of the new ease-of-use features in WebFOCUS version 8, such as the capability to let users drag and drop queries, scorecards, and even outside gadgets onto their WebFOCUS BI Portal. (The new repository-based security model was developed in large part to support customizations in the new BI Portal.) The decision was made to release InfoMini ahead of WebFOCUS 8, and make it available to customers with WebFOCUS version 184.108.40.206, Kotorov says.
Eventually, InfoMini should make it into DB2 Web Query, the version of WebFOCUS that IBM OEMs from Info Builders and sells into the IBM i marketplace. New WebFOCUS features are typically added to DB2 Web Query after they have been available to Information Builders’ customers for some time.