Marrying Data Visualization with BI

Information Builders VP says visualization is a technology that allows you to figure out what you want to ask.

Information Builders last week announced a new data visualization enhancement for its WebFOCUS business intelligence (BI) and enterprise reporting platform.

Kevin Quinn, vice president of product marketing for BI with Information Builders, says data visualization capabilities can help users to make better sense of corporate data through intuitive representation. More to the point, he argues, data visualization technologies enable users to refine their search areas or simply help them ask better questions.

“That’s the new big thing. If you think of reporting and you think of OLAP, tools where you can ask a question when you know what to ask, visualization is a technology that allows you to figure out what you want to ask,” he comments. “The tool itself will tell you where you should direct your question. It’s helping you direct questions to your data that you may not have known to ask before.”

WebFOCUS has traditionally boasted limited graphics and visualization capabilities. The new data visualization capabilities—which Information Builders is delivering by means of an agreement with Advizor Solutions Inc.—have been integrated with the WebFOCUS Analyst Console, which lets users perform graphical analysis using any of 15 different visualization controls.

According to Quinn, WebFOCUS Analyst Console makes it possible for users to spot trends, patterns, anomalies, and exceptions hidden in large data sets through multidimensional representation. Users can render raw data in the context of bar charts, counts, histograms, scatterplots, multiscapes, data constellations, and other formats.

WebFOCUS’ new data visualization capabilities are exposed by means of a Web browser interface. It requires a server component—a rendering engine—which runs on any of a variety of platforms, including Windows NT or Windows 2000, AS/400-iSeries, S/390 or zSeries mainframes, or Linux. Because the visual components in the WebFOCUS Analyst Console are dynamically connected and updated, Quinn says, users can make changes to visualization on the fly by selecting, zooming, pivoting or re-coloring charts.

The new graphical enhancements are designed to serve all BI constituencies, from average users to business executives to systems analysts and other power users, Quinn says. “Using those basic controls, an executive, any novice user can look at a pie chart, for example, and click on it and get more detailed information,” Quinn comments. “An advanced user using some of the more complex controls can then change the meaning of the color to mean a different dimension, or they may have multiple controls on the screen, they may select a slice of line of business, they can exclude all other lines of business and focus in on that one. There are more advanced things that the control provides that a novice user wouldn’t begin to use.”

Quinn acknowledges that Information Builders isn’t the first vendor to enhance its BI platform with data visualization capabilities. At the same time, he points to Information Builders strength in mainframe and minicomputer shops, along with its emerging prowess in distributed environments, as a competitive advantage. “Our data access capability is unique. There’s IBM research that says that most organizations give access to only 7 percent of their data to users, that’s because most of the tools that are available don’t give access to anything more than the most basic relational database,” he maintains. “With Information Builders providing this [data visualization], any data in the enterprise—legacy data like VSAM and IMS, to SAP and PeopleSoft—can be exposed like this.”

About the Author

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