Reporting Tools Reduce Strain on Operational Data
Most companies aren’t giving a lot of thought yet to an emerging class of software called enterprise reporting, which collects reports in a central repository for electronic distribution and easier access to the data. The market for the products was about $55 million in 1997, says Jacqueline Sweeney, an analyst with International Data Corp. (IDC, Framingham, Mass.).
That’s changing, according to Sweeney’s recent IDC report that identifies enterprise reporting as one of the fastest-growing segments in the information access tools market. Sweeney predicts the market will reach $1 billion by 2002.
One of the key drivers for the market’s growth is the ideal of reaching a paperless office by generating and distributing all reports electronically. Also important is that the software helps database administrators trying to limit the drain on processing time created by the proliferation of end users accessing data through Web interfaces.
"I think the whole demand has come from the Internet and the intranet. There are just more end users accessing the systems," Sweeney says. "You used to have 20 power users accessing information, and they would distribute that information to people who were interested. Now it’s gone from maybe your 20 power users to hundreds of users who want to access information."
Enterprise reporting software adds a middle tier, which acts as a repository of reports, between operational data and end users, and that helps limit the strain.
"Reporting tries to shield the masses of users from the database, because the database couldn’t handle that many queries," says Al Campa, vice president of marketing for Actuate Software Corp. (San Mateo, Calif., www.actuate.com), a major vendor of enterprise reporting software.
Much of the software adds flexibility to previously static reports, generated on tractor-fed paper and distributed around a company in carts. By converting the reports into digital formats and cataloguing the sections, the software enables the reports to become databases that may be queried for answers they weren’t actually designed to yield. For example, a sales report running hundreds of pages could be queried to reveal all sales events over $1 million or to show all sales people who had reached a certain percentage of their sales quotas. In addition, the software allows similar comparisons against previous versions of a report, last month, last quarter or last year.
Different vendors approach the problems from different angles.
Actuate has designed its product around the idea that inefficient reporting systems have developed in large organizations. "What we typically see is a mishmash of reporting systems," Campa says. "Reporting has always been approached application by application. Any internal application will have its own reporting system. What Actuate offers is the ability to replace that with one coherent architecture." Consequently, Actuate standardizes company reports on its software, Actuate Reporting System 3.1, and many features of the software are dedicated to actually creating reports.
Actuate has version 3.2 in beta. It features enhanced analysis tools for desktop users, including the ability to store and repeat report queries and to view search results more easily in third-party analysis tools.
Another vendor, DataWatch Corp. (Wilmington, Mass., www.datawatch.com) is using its experience with a desktop product it has been selling since the early 1990s as a springboard to the enterprise reporting market.
Building on its Monarch line of desktop software, which it terms a "report mining" product, DataWatch came out with Monarch ES in March and plans to enhance its enterprise reporting presence shortly with the release of another product called Monarch Data Pump, which converts reports into data to be used in data warehouses and data marts.
Report mining concentrates on archiving existing reports so they can be searched, queried and manipulated. DataWatch starts with the premise that a company’s reports already tend to be effective. "Companies have invested millions and millions of dollars in generating reports," says Marc Peterson, senior vice president of North American operations for DataWatch. "The resulting report, presuming the company spent all those millions of dollars wisely, fits someone’s need."