InfoManager Building BI Presence

Add another name to your list of choices for AS/400 data warehousing applications – Ferguson Information Systems’ InfoManager.

Ferguson is the Dallas-based U.S. reseller for InfoManager, a product of Finnish company InfoManager OY. The product traces its lineage back to System/38 in 1987 and has been available in North America since 1990. But it is only recently that the company has strengthened its relationship with IBM and begun to develop a larger presence in North America.

InfoManager is currently featured as part of IBM’s Visual Warehouse suite of data warehousing applications, providing both an OLAP tool and Lotus Notes integration and Web reporting. InfoManager recently added two new modules for these purposes – the Enterprise for Lotus Notes module, which will enable the analysis of the information in the data warehouse through Lotus Notes, and version 1.2 of InfoManager Enterprise Web, a Java based user interface for browser users.

InfoManager also includes Server, Client, Planner, Connect and Distributor modules. The Server module is a multidimensional database on the AS/400 that manages metadata and automates the database loading process. The Client module accesses the data and lets the user navigate the data warehouse through multidimensional analysis, exception reporting and drill-down.

The Planner is a new distributed planning tool for building a budgeting and forecast system, as well as for corporate reporting. It combines a controlled planning process with the Microsoft Excel user interface. The Connect module links the InfoManager data warehouse with Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheets, groupware such as Lotus Notes, and other PC programs. Connect allows the user to prepare multidimensional extracts from the InfoManager database and distribute them as reports to local, remote and mobile users.

The InfoManager Distributor module provides the interface to the data warehouse that enables the retrieval of information from the data warehouse on the AS/400 to the PC client. This module includes the Distributor OLE Server to handle communications with the data warehouse and the Query interface to query the data warehouse.

"InfoManager is more of an application than a toolkit," says Mike Barnes, director of sales and marketing at Ferguson Information Systems. "There’s no programming language to learn and it’s not a proprietary database. It lends itself to the ability to develop a data warehouse quickly.

"It’s based on the multidimensional DB2/400 database. There’s no ODBC, no middle layer. As long as you have access to an AS/400, you’re connected to it."

Mark Wulf, business intelligence segment manager for IBM AS/400 Partners in Development, says InfoManager’s user interface is one of the major strengths of the product.

"The user interface makes it very easy to work with, plus they provide nice integration in a Web browser with Java and into Lotus Notes applications. It’s very exciting to us," Wulf says.

Wulf says InfoManager can be used for data marts in just about any size customer.

"As a data mart solution, it fits just about everywhere, especially if people are interested in Notes or browser integration. A lot of our partners have browser interfaces, but these guys are on the cutting edge."

Wulf says the Notes integration capabilities InfoManager has are important because they allow the product to be the business intelligence back end to a Notes-based customer relationship management (CRM) system.

InfoManager can be used in a number of vertical markets, particularly banking, insurance and healthcare, Barnes says.

"IBM has asked us to focus primarily on banking, insurance and healthcare, so we have prebuilt templates for those industries," he says. "We also have clients in distribution and manufacturing and some retail."

"Those three industries [banking, insurance and healthcare] have a lot of potential for them," says Wulf. "They have a better opportunity to sell more product there because there’s not as much competition there. A lot of our [BI] partners are focused on manufacturing, almost everyone’s in retail and a lot are in distribution. But in banking, insurance and healthcare, there’s not as much competition. InfoManager by themselves had a history in those markets so they’re a really good fit there.

According to Barnes, InfoManager has more than 60 customer sites in North America, more than 400 worldwide.

One of those North American sites is Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Crystal City, Mo. The community hospital has been using InfoManager’s client and server modules for nearly a year now, providing a graphical EIS and data warehouse to track payroll, expenses, admissions census and some accounts receivable.

"It’s working pretty well for us," says Jan Poneta, IS manager at the hospital. "We needed some type of product to get information to the desktop from a graphical standpoint that’s a lot easier to look at than shoving paper reports down people’s throats. And we wanted to warehouse the [transactional] data."

The price of InfoManager became a big selling point for Poneta.

"Most data warehousing applications are quite expensive, so the price of InfoManager interested me right away. Instead of costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, it came in at under $100,000 for software and hardware. Plus it’s easy to use. I can have an analyst create charts on it, I don’t have to dedicate a programmer to it," Poneta says.

Jefferson Memorial bought an AS/400e 9406 Model S10 server for the data warehouse. They FTP transactional data from their 9406 Model 620 system.

"We have graphical data on a daily basis and fewer calls requiring a custom query – the charts are pretty much at the users’ fingertips," says Poneta. "We have the ability to make all that data available to our users, plus from the security standpoint, we can lock out departments from data they’re not supposed to see, like payroll. Each department manager sees their own data."