Where In The World Is Web Query?
November 12, 2012 Dan Burger
Web Query may be the most underused business intelligence software available. Although it is thought to be owned–complete with licenses and maintenance contracts–by tens of thousands of IBM i customers, it sits on the shelf, like good whiskey waiting for the right occasion. For those who don’t know a good thing when they don’t see it, Web Query was introduced by IBM in 2007 as a Web-based query and report product to replace the aged but beloved Query/400.
In its version 1 release, it was highly promoted by IBM as one of the many modern features being added to what was then called the i5 platform. Its Java-based design gave it a graphical interface and allowed users to write queries for the DB2/400 database (now called DB2 for i) and view the results in a Web browser. Product development came from IBM’s business partner Information Builders, which had an existing product called WebFOCUS, that was tweaked for use with i5/OS.
From the beginning, Web Query found a quick route into IBM midrange shops. It was sold, and still is sold, through the business partner channel, but even though it sold it remained under the radar in many instances. In retrospect, the evidence points to a couple of things. It was a low-cost Query/400 upgrade–even free to some users–for a limited number of licenses. The number increased according the tier level beginning with P05 servers. Maintenance fees were also attractively priced. As system upgrades were ordered, Web Query could be added at little cost for a few developers’ licenses and a few user licenses. It could be played with in a sandbox and its value discovered. At the P05 level, where many of the IBM i customers sit, there were no license fees for a couple of users and annual maintenance charges were less than $1,000.
That seemed like a great plan, but there were monkey wrenches tossed into the gears.
For one, additional product features, stuff that people might actually want, were priced separately and difficult for customers to learn about and order. Secondly, the per-user licenses were priced so that companies with dozens or hundreds of potential users found the costs could quickly soar. Third, because Web Query was frequently being tagged on to a hardware and operating system upgrade, it didn’t arrive with a business requirement to drive experimentation and deployment. And you can always add in the resistance of a new product when Query/400 was so well entrenched. Then for good measure, you can consider the downsizing of IT staffs thanks to the Great Recession, which hardly allowed time for completing day-to-day activities and practically eliminated the time to learn modern technologies, even those with much promise like business intelligence.
Licensing costs continue to haunt Web Query, even though the per-named-user licenses were replaced by group user licenses. Group user licenses allowed departments such as finance or sales, regardless of total number of users, to be on a single license. In small companies, it allows the entire company to be on a single license. That would depend on whether it is deemed a good idea that all employees should have access to the same reports.
Earlier this year, Web Query version 2.1 was released. It cleaned up some of the mess created by version 1, but there is some required reading involved to understand the upgrade process from Web Query 1.1 and from Query/400. The best source of information is the IBM developerWorks DB2 Web Query for i page, which you can link to here.
IBM recommends engaging with the DB2 for i Center of Excellence team for assistance with modernizing the Query/400 environment. There are also private consulting groups that can assist with this. If you read the article in last week’s issue of The Four Hundred about the local user groups in Michigan taking on a couple of Web Query projects, you’ll find a consultant, Laura Ubelhor, organized that project. She can be contacted through her company Consultech Services. There are most certainly companies doing Web Query on their own, but there are many types of IT projects these days that need outside help to get them rolling. Some of it is due to complexity, but mostly it’s an issue of understaffing, which results in no time for training and education.
From an ease of ordering perspective, the individual features are no longer being sold separately. That simplifies a situation that led to much confusion about what the products were and how they could be ordered. In the latest Web Query, there are two options: Express and Standard. Express is the entry level product with the capability to build analytical reports (including OLAP reports) and it includes support for mobile clients and Excel users. The Standard edition adds features and functionality such as report distribution functions, application integration capabilities, and the SQL Server adapter for accessing data in Microsoft’s database as well as in DB2 for i.
New customers will get version 2.1, which means they will have to be running IBM i 6.1 or 7.1. Existing customers, who have actually used the product and have files they want to move to version 2.1, can get a license without a charge if they have a current software maintenance agreement.
Pricing is not the issue it once was. Group licenses have helped larger organizations, but in the small to midsize businesses it may take some creative group designations to keep costs affordable. This is where a business partner or consultant with Web Query experience might be able to help. Also be aware that the original tier pricing has been eliminated in favor of core pricing, which may reduce costs for some organizations.
It seems likely that more shops will be looking to Web Query to expand their business intelligence capabilities, particularly those that have the product and are keeping it on the shelf. As always, we’ll have to wait and see.