Hummingbird Dives Into Business Intelligence

When Hummingbird Communications Ltd. (Toronto, www.hummingbird.com) acquired Andyne Computing Ltd. (Toronto) in January, the company had already made a strategic decision to alter its core mission from NT-Unix connectivity products to business intelligence (BI) software.

With the introduction of a Web-enabled BI product for the Internet and corporate intranets, called Hummingbird BI Suite, the company set that mission into motion. The BI Suite, which was developed for Windows NT, with a Unix version to follow later in the year, serves the need for fat- and thin-client access to a corporate server.

There are three components in the BI Suite: BI Broker, BI Query 5.0 and BI Web. BI Query 5.0 is an upgraded version of Andyne’s GQL product suite, while BI Broker and BI Web are new. BI Broker handles session and file management, and includes a scheduling program that handles queries, report refreshes, and time-based and event-based schedules. BI Query 5.0 is the fat client engine that provides end-user access to information housed on BI Broker, while BI Web is a thin client version that permits the same data access capabilities over an Internet or intranet connection using a browser. BI Web requires no plug-ins but does download three applets to gain full access to the BI Broker. Administrators of the system can manage the BI Suite from one central location.

BI Broker is designed to trigger a multiple set of events for a multiple set of circumstances. For instance, a company manager wants a series of reports to print when sales reach 50 percent of the quota. The administrator could program BI Broker to print out the report and then send it via e-mail to a specified group of people. With time-based scheduling, the administrator could program all of this activity to occur at any specified time. Reports can also be scheduled to be published to the Web via FTP, or can be pulled into Microsoft Excel.

Patrick Firouzian, system analyst for Bay Networks Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif., www.baynetworks.com), says his company has been using the beta version of BI Suite for several weeks, and so far he’s been impressed with the results. He explains, "We’ve been using the scheduling feature to send reports via e-mail to certain users, and that’s worked very well."

According to Christopher Rouse, product manager for Hummingbird’s Business Intelligence Group, BI Suite provides immediate access, even to inexperienced users. "The enterprise needs something that end users can use right away, with no training," says Rouse. To that end, BI Suite includes BI Web, a user interface that is Java-based and functionally equal to the fat client.

On the Web, users can requalify queries on tables, charts and graphs, and immediately receive updated information at the click of a button. Users can also be prompted to specify report data to get exactly what they need. Each Web user has a personal BI Web workspace that is customizable in a file/folder Java applet.

Bay Networks’ Firouzian says he’s looking forward to using the BI Web feature of BI Suite. "We have about 800 users on our system right now," he says, "but now we’ll be able to have a lot more because of the Web use tool."

Both fat and thin clients are using the same services and the same data. The payoff for IT managers comes with security. The data needs to be published only once, and the security protocols are layered over top the data. The security profile defines individual user identification, a user’s membership in groups, and the user’s role in the company. A user can view published reports in their entirety or in part on the basis of the level of access the user has.

According to Hummingbird’s Rouse, this sets up an additional security layer. "You’re not only [protecting] the pipe, but what goes through the pipe," he says.

Jacqueline Sweeney, senior research analyst for International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass., www.idc.com), says BI Suite is a comprehensive offering. "Many companies have yet to offer services on the Web, but when they switch over, it will be an effortless migration if they have BI Suite," says Sweeney.