Information Builders Touts Inroads Into SAP BW—and Beyond

IBI is more aggressively pushing its WebFOCUS suite and iWay connectivity adapters as a platform for enterprise-wide BI.

If you need to report against SAP AG’s Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better connectivity solution than the integration technology SAP itself resells for that purpose. At least, that’s the message from Information Builders Inc. (IBI), which this week announced new SAP BW-specific enhancements for its WebFOCUS enterprise reporting suite. After all, SAP taps adapters from IBI’s iWay subsidiary to help expose BW to outside data sources. And since WebFOCUS has been tweaked to support the latest release of SAP BW, isn’t it a no-brainer reporting complement to SAP’s hugely popular business information warehouse?

“SAP actually resells our iWay adapters; they’re what connect you to different data sources—and those are the same adapters that WebFocus uses,” says Kevin Quinn, a product marketing manager with IBI.

IBI’s iWay adapter stack doesn’t comprise an ETL toolkit. There’s no extraction, per se, of back-end data. Instead, says Quinn, the collective iWay stack is analogous to an enterprise information integration (EII) solution, in that it facilitates federated access to back-end data. This is a unique advantage for IBI and WebFOCUS, Quinn maintains, because it allows customers to create virtual or composite views of SAP BW data along with data stored in other repositories.

“On the back-end, we’re helping SAP themselves open up. We’re providing direct access to the application, so you don’t move the data; you instead go through SAP’s application layer. The only extraction you have is the extraction of the data for the report. That’s one of the benefits of WebFOCUS is that you can create a view of BW information with information from other sources. It could be in theory two ERP systems joined together.”

To that end, the revamped WebFOCUS is SAP NetWeaver certified. It facilitates real-time access to data stored not just in SAP BW, but also in SAP R/3 and hundreds of other data sources. It’s integrated with the SAP portal. It’s got single sign-on integration with SAP’s application stack. “[SAP’s] content is directly integrated via iViews in the SAP Portal, and we provide a single sign-on environment directly all the way through.”

More to the point, says Quinn, the revamped WebFOCUS is tweaked to take advantage of SAP BW-specific features, such as hierarchies.

“There’s a capability in BW, they have a thing called hierarchies, which is the way that you organize data,” he says. Hierarchies can describe, for example, the range of brands in a given product set (e.g., Coke, Vanilla Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, & etc.). “The way you store data in BW is that it’s stored in these hierarchies, so we’ve exposed from the metadata standpoint the hierarchies in our development tools and our metadata tools. We’ve made it easier to see based on the data in the hierarchy.”

The take-away, says Quinn, is that IBI is more aggressively pushing its WebFOCUS suite (in tandem, of course, with its iWay subsidiary) as a combined platform for enterprise-wide BI. In other words, Quinn says, at a time when Business Objects SA, Cognos Inc., and Hyperion Solutions Corp. are pushing monolithic, one-size-fits-all BI suites, IBI hopes to tout a simpler approach.

“One of the big things is our play, us being a platform for building operational BI applications and also being an integration platform, we really can kind of connect the enterprise that has SAP BW and many other things, give them access to all of their data,” he concludes.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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