NEW ORLEANS — Better graphics capability in a business intelligence application may not be rocket science, but attendees at Information Builders’ user conference said they’re excited about the possibilities 3-D presentation of data offers.

What it means is organizations can create graphs in

a scalable vector graphics output format and have the ability to save an active dashboard as a PowerPoint slide, said Gerry Cohen, Information Builder’s president and CEO in his keynote address to the some 1,000 attendees. In many business intelligence applications, he added, users’ only option for visually displaying data is rudimentary, two-dimensional graphs.

“”Users want the ability to produce their own reports,”” said Cohen. “”With the visual report enhancements in WebFocus, when the reports are transported into Adobe and printed, they all print clearly.””

Andy Hanna, manager of report management and distribution at RBC Royal Bank in Toronto, said these enhancements will enable better self-service options for RBC’s 10,000 employees who use WebFocus business intelligence in their jobs.

“”With more lower-end users accessing the system, they don’t have to depend on an IT person to get everything out there,”” said Hannah, RBC’s manager of report management and distribution. “”In today’s world we’re sending everything to people’s desktops and they need to do something with it afterwards.””

IBI also launched WebFocus Performance Management Framework, which it said allows organizations to better manage key performance metrics. The framework is certified by the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative and features dashboards, performance metrics, management methodologies and financial reporting.

“”A lot of things boil up into making a business strategy, things such as reduce costs by 10 per cent or increase sales by 20 per cent,”” said Cohen. “”This is a way to keep track of those business metrics. So instead of saying we had a bad quarter, we can address those things that are affecting us while we’re still in that quarter.””

Business analytics software is a US$12.5 billion market, and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of seven per cent each year for the next five years, according to IDC. In fact, business analytics is one of the few technology markets that continued to grow throughout the tech sector’s slump, said Dan Vesset, research director at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

The evidence of this booming market appears in Information Builder’s most recent financial statements. The first quarter of 2004 was the company’s best quarter in its 29 year history. It added 32 new customers and it inked three deals in excess of US$1 million.

In their quest to keep their current customers happy and attract new ones, organizations are implementing BI applications in growing numbers. In fact, customer satisfaction and retention is the primary driver behind the adoption of BI, followed by decreasing costs and increasing revenue, said Vesset. In a 2003 study of 45 organizations in North America and Europe, IDC found the average rate of return on investment for BI applications was 431 per cent.

“”Competitive advantage comes from the speed and accuracy of decision-making,”” he said.

Beyond customer retention and better decision-making ability, one of the best motivators for investing in business analytics is the ability to access an accurate picture of the company’s financial health and pinpoint discrepancies that could spell legal trouble.

“”I don’t see any better reason to implement some of this technology than the CEO not going to jail,”” said Vesset.

Vesset estimated there are some 1,000 vendors in the market offering BI tools, but cautioned that this is a technology where the supplier’s experience and financial viability should factor into buyer’s decision-making process.

“”Leverage the vendor’s ability to pre-package a platform and its vertical industry expertise,”” he said. “”Look for companies that put in more advanced functionality such as GIS and data visualization.””

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