NQuire Fills in Structured Data Piece of Portal Puzzle

The startup company nQuire Software (www.nquire.com) is delivering what its officials say is a missing component of the promise of enterprise information portals.

"There’s been a lot of capability around creating a portal for the unstructured data. What we wanted to do is create an enabling engine for the querying of structured data," says Larry Barbetta, president and CEO of nQuire. The company recently began shipping its nQuire Server Suite.

The vision for enterprise information portals, a recent industry buzzword, is simple: Give a business user a single interface to access or search for every relevant bit of data from every corner of the enterprise on a customer or a business issue.

In theory, a portal will present unstructured data, such as e-mail and documents, and structured data from data warehouses, data marts, operational systems and ERP systems. In practice, techniques for accessing unstructured data are more sophisticated, honed through the search engines of general Internet portals such as Yahoo! and HotBot.

NQuire positions its suite as the structured data engine for corporate portals. The company refers to the Inktomi search engine that performs Yahoo! and HotBot searches as an example of what it hopes to achieve. "We’ve built this to live in and behind all sorts of portals and corporate intranet sites," Barbetta says.

The company’s development team is experienced with decision support. Barbetta formerly ran one of the five business units of Platinum Technology, a company he joined when Platinum acquired his relational OLAP and data warehousing software company, Prodea Software. [Have a few lines to add back if needed.]

Running on a Windows NT Server between the user and the structured data sources, nQuire’s suite is supposed to present business users with a simplified view of the complex table structures in the actual data sources.

"We have this abstraction layer that’s intended to reflect the way people think about the information," Barbetta says. "We have to provide a user interface that is not just a [blank] box and some Booleans. We found that for the average person, you can’t give them some high-performance report writer interface, either."

Wayne Eckerson, an analyst at Patricia Seybold Group (www.psgroup.com), says nQuire’s offering addresses a weaknesses of the data warehouse approach to analyzing data.

"[Warehouses] are designed for power users who understand the nature of the data and how to slice and dice it and how to analyze it," Eckerson says. "What warehouses don’t do, and what the Web has exposed as a weakness, is that they’re not designed for the general business user."

Moreover, most data warehouse- or data mart-focused analysis tools are incapable of querying more than one data source, Eckerson says. "You could call [nQuire] the next generation OLAP tool – OLAP for the masses and for heterogeneous data access. The reality is that there are more than just warehouses out there."

NQuire’s tool should work well for the basic requests that most business users will want it to answer, Eckerson predicts. He cautions, however, that IT staff must be careful when they define the data abstraction layers on the nQuire server. "You don’t want to give users access to dirty data and aggregate data that’s not aligned," he notes.

The product also makes no attempt to incorporate unstructured data in its result sets, meaning corporations looking to set up corporate portals will need to find alternate querying technology for those functions.

NQuire is targeting three market segments for its product. The first is Fortune 1,000 corporations setting up enterprise information portals on their intranets. The second is enterprise business-to-business arrangements for sharing data among partners. The last is for consumer-oriented Web services, such as creating fantasy sports league sites where users could combine sports statistics with weather data, for example.

The suite centers on nQuire Server, while other components include browser-based access to the server, nQuire portal templates for integrating the search engine with other portals or setting up portals from scratch, a cache server for speeding query responses by storing frequently run requests and software for security, maintenance and management of the suite.

NQuire Server has native driver interfaces to major relational databases from Oracle Corp., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and others; ODBC interfaces; and an XML adapter. The product is also designed to work with third-party business intelligence tools.