LAS VEGAS — Two Canadian financial institutions are using Information Builder Inc.‘s WebFocus to push the limits of their reporting capabilities and achieve better integration with the software and data they already use in-house.

IBI will

debut the latest version of the product, WebFocus 7, next month. Founder and CEO Gerry Cohen detailed some of the features that are expected to have resonance with customers at his company’s annual user conference, the IBI Summit.

During his opening keynote address Monday Cohen spoke of the growth of “operational business intelligence”– an approach to BI designed to maximize the value of information across an enterprise by distributing it via a Web interface. Information kept in silos is only useful to a specific group, he said, but IBI customers are looking for a solution that can push data beyond pure analysis and into the real world where it can achieve more relevance. 

“It means we have to make technical changes to stay in tune with what our customers want to do,” said Cohen.

IBI is celebrating its 30th year in business this year, and Cohen has been at the helm for the duration. He was serenaded by a Marilyn Monroe lookalike following his keynote with a rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”

One of the key technical changes for WebFocus 7 is making it more capable of interacting with data formats generated by other enterprise tools, particularly SQL, LDAP, XML and Microsoft’s spreadsheet tool Excel. WebFocus 7 will include a SQL Wizard that can be used to transfer SQL reports directly into a WebFocus GUI. Through these improvements IBI aims to make WebFocus easier to use, allowing it to be deployed across a broader user base.

“I think we’re on that road now,” said Andy Hanna, program manager, report management and distribution, for Royal Bank of Canada. “We’re headed towards that methodology.”

Hanna said that his organization will move to WebFocus 7 following a period of testing. His division has been using IBI products for about 10 years, including WebFocus and IBI’s mainframe tools.

“The wizards help a lot, especially the SQL wizard,” said Hanna. “We have a (Microsoft) SQL database (for) all our requests that come in through our Web site. One thing about WebFocus, it pretty much reads anything. They’re making it more integrated with Excel files, PDF, you name it.”

Despite the ability of the product to work with multiple data formats, RBC has deployed WebFocus — the bank is currently using 5.3.3, the most current version to date — in a limited capacity across its organization. There are limits to which different types of enterprise applications can interact.

But, he said, other departments within the bank are interested in deploying WebFocus. “Data is power, so they want it more and more and more.”

A recent convert to WebFocus is RBC’s asset-based finance division, which began using the product about six months ago. Roy Estevens, manager of business system information, said his division uses it to deliver data to its  SME customer base. “It’s a secure Web link and our customers see their financial position live in real time,” he  said. “Our reports that we generated from our system  before going to WebFocus were piles of paper that we had to fax.”

While RBC is testing the waters of using WebFocus more broadly, another Canadian financial institution is on the cusp of rolling it out for the first time.

Mutual fund company CI Funds, based in Toronto, will deploy WebFocus 5.3.3 to a handful of its senior sales executives in the coming weeks. The company employs more than 1,000 people, but its primary pool of WebFocus users will be less than 10. 

The rollout is relatively small because the product is new to the company, said Scott Dewar, vice-president of IT, client reporting and advisor services for CI, and there is still some loyalty to the Business Objects reporting tool that the company currently uses.

But it was the ability for sales people to compile their own reports through a self-service Web application that attracted CI to WebFocus, said Dewar. It was also its ability to hook into the company’s Sybase database and read multiple data formats.

If the rollout is deemed a success by senior executives, it may be taken wider within the organization. “I’m looking forward to it,” said Dewar. “It’s not your traditional type of project. I see a lot of potential through the organization in other areas, not just sales and marketing, for this type of technology.”

All business intelligence vendors will begin to develop their software such that it can be deployed at multiple levels of an organization, said Keith Gile, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Most enterprises currently take a piecemeal approach to deploying BI tools, but Forrester expects that to change. “Where there is a touchpoint with your customers, that is where BI will be,” said Gile.

It could be of great benefit in a call centre, where a company deals directly with its customers, he said. For example, BI reporting capabilities can help call centre operators determine the optimum time to keep a customer on the phone and suggest cross-selling opportunities. 

Hanna said that RBC already uses BI within its customer call centres, but there’s definitely room for its role to be expanded.

Information Builders Summit 2005 continues until Thursday.


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