Information Builders Brings Performance Management to Smaller Enterprises

With a newer, leaner WebFOCUS PMM offering, IBI takes its operational performance management message to small and midsize businesses

There's a sense in which Information Builders Inc. (IBI) has been an accidental --perhaps even unwilling -- performance management (PM) vendor.

In the past, for example, IBI chief Gerry Cohen downplayed the importance of discrete PM tools, preferring to tout his company's WebFOCUS as a one-stop-shop for business intelligence (BI) and PM alike.

That could explain why last week's announcement of a new WebFOCUS-branded Performance Management Metrics (PMM) product might strike some BI practitioners as a departure for the company, in spite of the fact that WebFOCUS PMM is actually a stripped-down product of an existing IBI Product: WebFOCUS Performance Management Framework.

IBI just hasn't had much to say about performance management, even as competitors -- including heavyweights such as the former Cognos Inc. and Hyperion Solutions Corp. and independents (such as SAS Institute Inc.) alike have adopted the PM mantra.

IBI isn't actually anti-PM. It never has been, officials maintain (see http://esj.com/business_intelligence/article.aspx?EditorialsID=8395). It's simply anti-PM-as-it's-traditionally-been-practiced: namely as a tool for budgeting, planning, or forecasting.

For most of its life, IBI officials argue, performance management has been yoked to a finance-centric corporate performance management (CPM) vision. This isn't the kind of PM IBI wants to do. "[IBI CEO] Gerry [Cohen] was never going to purchase a traditional budgeting, planning, and forecasting company -- and if I built a budgeting, planning, and forecasting toolkit, he'd probably reduce my pay," says David Cooke, director of IBI's Performance Management Solutions group.

Instead, IBI wants to focus on what it calls operational performance management, or OPM. At the risk of sanctioning an impossibly vast technology category, OPM encompasses much more than just the financial process: i.e., measuring and managing performance across an organization's supply chain, inventory, sales, marketing, and even IT. IBI's existing WebFOCUS Performance Management Framework gives customers a one-stop shop to handle these tasks, complete with a scorecarding facility.

WebFOCUS PMM, on the other hand, is intended to give customers the nuts-and-bolts tools -- sans scorecarding capabilities -- they can use to cobble together operational performance management applications. Both tools ship with canned wizards and KPI-driven dashboards -- more than 100 of them, according to IBI -- as well as canned connectivity, courtesy of WebFOCUS and (more specifically) IBI's iWay Software subsidiary.

The WebFocus Performance Management Framework is aimed at larger organizations; IBI is pitching WebFOCUS PMM to smaller shops -- or, as Cooke puts it, to companies that "aren't as far along in the maturity curve" as are large enterprise shops. The expectation, he says, is that once such shops get up and running on WebFOCUS PMM, they'll opt for its bigger -- and scorecard-rich -- brother.

"We've been releasing this full-fledged [product] for four and a half years. Now … we've taken that solution and sort of subsetted it and made it available without the strategy and the scorecarding parts -- just the management and the BI. We're [pitching that to] organizations at the lower end of the maturity curve to get started managing their metrics in an easy way and then be able to subsequently license the full-fledged Performance Management Framework."

Isn't Microsoft aiming for the same small-to-medium enterprise segment with PerformancePoint Server? Perhaps -- but Cooke doesn't seem overly alarmed. For one thing, he argues, IBI scales better -- and pushes deeper into the enterprise -- with its WebFOCUS Performance Management Framework offering. In addition, PerformancePoint Server is a first-generation product, while PMM is entirely homegrown. In fact, Cooke argues, many of IBI's PM competitors -- especially Business Objects, which was acquiring best-of-breed players (such as Cartesis) right up until its own acquisition by SAP AG -- market PM stacks that have been cobbled together from acquired technologies.

"If you look at Cognos' and Hyperion's and Business Objects' offerings, they're really a number of acquired technologies sort of stitched together in the back end. That just isn't the case with [PMM]," he argues.

There's also an ease-of-use -- not to mention an ease-of-connectivity -- hook, according to Cooke: "We have a built-in wizard for loading metrics from source systems. You can point to your source system and schedule how frequently you want to have it refreshed. All of the components that are exposed to either the author or the administrator were all developed using the WebFOCUS BI toolset, so it's designed to work out of the box. You don't have to change anything, but every bit of it is changeable using [our] BI tools."

WebFOCUS is known for being a great behind-the-scenes BI technology: IBI touts its ability to be aggressively embedded in homegrown or third-party applications. In this way, IBI officials argue, organizations can expose BI query and reporting capabilities to ever-larger user constituencies. The same holds true in the PM space, Cooke maintains.

"Consumers can decide what they want to see in the dashboards and change properties without any intervention from IT. Within both tools, we have a full-fledged ad hoc query development tool inside there, built for this kind of stuff, so you can create new content within the tool itself," he explains. "All of that embed-ability is there. Recently, we made it so WebFocus can both consume and publish Web services, so all of this content that's in this solution can be published as a Web service, so it can be embedded that way, too."