Information Builders tightens WebFocus link to Excel

New version of BI tool adds portable dashboards, embeds analysis into business processes

LAS VEGAS -- Information Builders Inc. Monday announced a new version of its WebFocus business intelligence tool set that it said improves integration with Microsoft Office and adds portable dashboards.

WebFocus 7.6.1, unveiled at IBI's Summit User Conference here, includes a new plug-in for Excel, called Quick Data, which connects the BI tool's reporting engine directly to a Microsoft Corp. spreadsheet. The link will allow users to build BI reports from within Excel and see accurate, up-to-date data when they open Excel, the company said.

Information Builders said that the new version of WebFocus is also integrated with the enterprise service bus sold by its iWay Software subsidiary. That link will let companies embed BI data -- like how important a customer is to the company -- into the daily processes of its workers. A call center representative could, for example, use such data to better handle customer inquiries, the New York-based company said.

The new WebFocus version also extends its Active Reports tool by adding an Active Dashboards feature, which will let users analyze data in different scenarios, such as byproduct or customer segments without having to be connected to a network. The product also retains the Active Reports feature, delivers reports with an embedded analytical engine via e-mail for disconnected analysis.

"[The Active Dashboard] is full thin client," said Dan Ortolani, vice president of advanced BI services at IBI. "We can actually bundle multiple dashboard scenarios in a single payload. A dashboard can run fully disconnected and can be sent out on a massive scale."

Coty Inc. is now rolling out the new version of WebFocus in a project that will be completed in November, said David Berry, senior vice president and CIO at the New York-based cosmetics company. Once installed, Berry said he expects the new portable dashboards will let sales personnel "have their entire world" available to them whether connected to the network or not.

Berry also expects the new Excel plug-in to prove valuable to Coty users. "I'm surprised [Information Builders] didn't do this a long time ago," he said. "You can try to convince people that there are other ways other than Excel in terms of sharing data. The average financial guy is not going to give up on Excel."

As far as the new ability to link BI data into a process, Berry said his company needs the ability to alert manufacturing when a product is selling very fast so they can be prepared.

"If we have a runaway product, I want to know about it now, not tomorrow morning," he added. "Today, it can take us weeks to find out we have a product that is flying through the roof."

Berry acknowledged that infusing real-time information into workers' daily tasks will require a large cultural shift for users who now rely mainly on day-old data.

Patrick Yip, a director at iNautix Technologies, an affiliate of securities clearinghouse firm Pershing LLC, said his company already embeds BI in its processes. The company uses WebFocus to monitor how long specific tasks like issuing a check are taking. Managers can see in real-time processes that are lagging.

Because such oversight "causes people a lot of anxiety," he said the company has moved to reassure the employees that the efforts are focused on its service-level agreements for customers.

The new version of WebFocus is shipping now.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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