InetSoft Gets Agile BI Right

InetSoft positions its new Style Intelligence 11.0 release as a BI offering for the most agile of agile BI practitioners.

Several vendors helped popularize the shift toward workgroup business intelligence (BI), including Lyza Inc. and QlikTech International AB to name just two. Most established players have likewise benefitted from the workgroup BI revolution.

InetSoft Technology Corp. is perhaps the strangest beneficiary of them all: the latest revision of its flagship Style Intelligence offering draws on the same reporting technology it's been marketing since 1996, but includes a number of workgroup-oriented amenities, via Style Studio, its improved -- and more self-serviceable -- reporting and mash-up design environment.

"Really, it's still the same reporting capability in [Style Intelligence]. It has two major components, the reporting part -- which can still be installed separately -- and the mashup and visualization part," says Mark Flaherty, chief marketing officer with InetSoft, which officially introduced version 11.0 of Style Intelligence earlier this month. "Nowadays, everyone wants to say they're agile in some way. But … particularly with [respect to] the level of self-service, that's an aspect of agility that we take really far. From Excel wizards that walk [users] through the process of making their own dashboard reports to our data mash-up design capability, we focus on self-service."

InetSoft is one of several BI veterans seeking to exploit the workgroup BI trend. With a few notable exceptions (e.g., MicroStrategy Inc.), most of these players wound up sitting out the BI suite wars of the late 2000s.

Information Builders Inc. (IBI), for example, trumpets the agile capabilities of its venerable WebFOCUS BI, which it positions as a workgroup BI-like offering. Microsoft Corp., for its part, gave its SQL Server 2008 R2 release a workgroup-oriented retrofit, introducing PowerPivot, a column-store on the desktop for use with its Excel 2010 product. (Not surprisingly, an upstart entrant, Syntes LLC, has since developed a PowerPivot-like offering -- dubbed Vizubi -- that works with Excel versions 2003 and 2007 in addition to 2010.) Elsewhere, BI veterans such as MicroStrategy and Actuate Corp. trumpet the workgroup-like capabilities of their offerings, chiefly via improved user self-service capabilities.

InetSoft revamped its venerable Style Report offering a few years ago, introducing Style Scope (a Web-based dashboard design tool) and Style Intelligence, an interactive, visualization-oriented reporting, dashboarding, and mashing-up environment. Both products debuted in 2007 -- in other words, at just about the time that workgroup BI was getting ready to take off.

Since then, InetSoft has focused on ease of connectivity in the back-end -- augmenting its least-common-denominator JDBC connectivity with native adapters for SAP, Siebel, J.D. Edwards, and PeopleSoft -- and rapid time-to-deployment, particularly with respect to report or mash-up design and implementation. The new Style Intelligence 11.0 release, which includes a new integrated design environment (Style Studio), is consistent with this focus.

Typical deployments -- which involve single business units in multinational organizations or mid-size shops of several hundred employees -- clock in at between 2 to 6 weeks, with 4 weeks being most common, Flaherty says.

The idea isn't to go out-of-band around IT, but to involve IT -- and, especially, the data management (DM) staff -- in the initial deployment, which includes configuring connectivity to back-end sources and creating the first reports, dashboard views, and mash-ups. From there, the business unit (or business units, in the case of mid-size companies) are expected to rely less on IT. Power users, for example, learn to create reports, dashboards, and mash-ups. In many cases, one or more power users can service a department or business unit. In most cases, power users likewise teach knowledge workers how to customize reports, dashboards, or mash-ups to their own needs or tastes.

In the version 11.0 release of Style Intelligence that InetSoft introduced this month, most of the new design amenities -- are targeted at power users, Flaherty says. "These [additions] are aimed mostly at the power users. The one that really encapsulates [this emphasis] is that we have combined a few different tools that were separate tools into our new development studio, [which we've dubbed] Style Studio. Our Data Modeler, our Report Designer, our data mash-up tools, are all in the same place. The idea is that Studio is personalizable for the kinds of things that you like to do all of the time," he explains.

Flaherty doesn't see the workgroup BI trend that's benefitted InetSoft and most of its competitors going anywhere anytime soon.

"The theory had been that it would be more cost-effective for companies to standardize [on a BI suite]," he says. "In practice, most [organizations] found that wasn't so. Every multinational [organization] already has several [BI] tools [in-house]. Some have dozens. Even mid-size companies tend to have a few different [tools]. It's nice to think that standardizing [on a single tool] would be cost-effective, but in reality that's never going to happen."

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