Information Builders Claims an Enterprise Search ‘First’

Does IBI really intend to position WebFOCUS Magnify, its newest search offering, as a BI first? You betcha.

Earlier this month, business intelligence (BI) stalwart Information Builders Inc. (IBI) unveiled a new offering that it billed as the "industry’s first BI search tool."

Marketers are no strangers to hyperbole, of course, but does IBI really intend to position WebFOCUS Magnify, its newest search offering, as a BI first?

In addition to IBI itself—which hopped on the search bandwagon in September of 2005—competitors Business Objects SA, Cognos Inc., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and SAS Institute Inc., all market search offerings. And at least two of those vendors purport to push straight-up "BI" search tools. So what gives? Can IBI credibly call WebFOCUS Magnify an industry first?

That depends on what your definition of the phrase "industry’s first" is. Although IBI officials acknowledge that other products do BI search, they claim that no product does BI search like Magnify. And while that might strike some as a weakened or diluted form of the marketer’s argument, IBI officials don’t shy away from naming names—or alleging feature and functionality shortcomings, for that matter. "Other products claim they do as well … [but] in a nutshell, they either let you search existing BI-based content … or let you structure search results so that you can report on them," says Jake Freivald, vice-president of marketing for Information Builders. The former approach is taken by Business Objects and Cognos, Freivald alleges; the latter by Fast Search and Transfer (FAST). "WebFOCUS Magnify is the only product that lets you do both of those and search unstructured data and analyze the results."

IBI isn’t any stranger to enterprise search, either. Even before IBM and Oracle outlined their own search initiatives in March of last year—and before competitors Business Objects and Cognos had formally taken their own enterprise search plunges—Information Builders cozied up to Google Inc., enrolling in the search giant’s Google Enterprise Professional program. Then, last March, IBI officially unveiled its first-ever enterprise search tool: WebFOCUS Intelligent Search, a hybrid entry that tapped WebFOCUS, IBI’s iWay Software data integration connectors, and the Google Search Appliance.

Fast forward to WebFOCUS Magnify, which IBI describes as a "search navigation" tool designed to complement a dedicated search engine—from Google or other vendors—by dynamically categorizing search results and supplementing them (if necessary) with analysis and reporting capabilities. Magnify uses search metadata to index structured data records and provides access to all WebFOCUS capabilities through its Web-based search interface.

WebFOCUS Magnify isn’t your garden-variety-competitor’s enterprise search tool, IBI officials argue. "We don't just search relational databases and text files. The [Google Search Appliance] can do that out of the box," Freivald points out. "We also search ERP systems, legacy systems, queries that may contain data from multiple sources—relational, non-relational, ERP, legacy, and so on—and more." WebFOCUS Magnify also lets users search for information stored in EDI documents, CVS files, XML files, standard files, Web services, and what Freivald describes as "a huge variety of other messages, documents, and other transient data" that competitive offerings can’t access.

Furthermore, says Freivald, WebFOCUS Magnify doesn’t require that the information for which a user is searching—along with its context and associated values—is actually available in an existing report. "If information existed in an SAP system, a Web service call, and an EDI document, we can show all of that information to the end user without anyone having ever built a WebFOCUS report that contained that data," Freivald maintains.

IBI isn’t the only vendor that makes such a claim, of course. Search specialist FAST, for example, says it can do more or less the same thing. Freivald concedes as much, but points out that FAST also requires access to a data warehouse to pull off its search synthesis. WebFOCUS Magnify, he says, offers an out-of-the-box capability of this kind, thanks to its iWay underpinnings.

Elsewhere, IBI officials talk up WebFOCUS Magnify’s user interface, which they say yokes the usability of the Web search paradigm to the back-end search expertise of WebFOCUS and iWay. The upshot, as far as users are concerned, is the abstraction of otherwise intrusive complexity: users can submit natural language queries—exactly as they do in the Web search model—and receive a listing of relevant reports, dashboards, scorecards, or other BI-related information, along with the context of such information as it appears in the source. "Our user interface is dynamically generated. We automatically take information in all of the data that we index and make it possible for you to see what's out there more effectively, select only the records that contain the type of information you want, [and] analyze the results," Freivald says.

Freivald uses the example of a retail knowledge worker who initiates a search on "athletic shoes" and is utterly buried in information. "You search on ‘athletic shoes’ and fifteen reports show up—this would happen with everyone, because all BI vendors index their reports—as well as 2700 records about athletic shoes. Now, these 2700 records wouldn't even show up on competitors' searches, because they weren't in reports," Freivald indicates. "However, we don't just give you this information in raw form. We put a tree on the screen that shows you all of the types of data we found: store codes, price categories, ‘running shoes,’ versus ‘basketball shoes,’ versus ‘cross-trainers’—you name it. Instead of being overwhelmed with 2700 records, you click the category you want to filter down to the 100 or 15 or two that you need."

About the Author

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