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Building a Self-Service Reporting Environment for Employees and Clients

  • October 01 2001, 1:00am EDT


REVIEWER: John Sheridan, applications manager for Administaff.

BACKGROUND: As the nation's leading professional employer organization, Administaff acts as a full-service human resources department for small-and medium-sized businesses throughout the United States.

PLATFORMS: We use various types of UNIX servers and Microsoft Windows on the desktop.

PROBLEM SOLVED: For many years, Administaff relied on a staff of people in the IT department to respond to client questions and create custom reports. We started looking for a way to deploy information to our clients via intranet technologies and the Web. We also wanted to add business intelligence technology to our existing systems and develop a Web-based reporting environment. The driving motivation was to put more power in the hands of clients so they could help themselves to the information they required. We used the WebFOCUS Managed Reporting Environment (MRE) from Information Builders to create dozens of reports for clients to access via the Web, many of which are customizable to allow for parameter input. WebFOCUS gives all levels of users the power to run standard, ad hoc and OLAP-enabled reports on any Web browser.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Our goal was to move away from custom reporting; WebFOCUS makes that easy to do. It gives users the flexibility to create the types of reports they need and present the data in a meaningful way. The capabilities for accessing and analyzing information are practically endless, serving to boost the productivity of internal staff members while increasing client satisfaction. WebFOCUS manages all aspects of our reporting environment through a single facility. Predefined menus and routines give clients and employees everything they need to produce consistent, accurate reports and graphs on the Web or on the desktop. Power users can download and analyze reports on the desktop with enhanced tools such as WebFOCUS Report Assist, a drag-and-drop WYSIWYG development environment. Client owners use WebFOCUS to access Administaff's AIMS database, a repository of data on employees, payroll, 401k, employee benefits and other types of human resources information. In addition, a worksite employee at a customer location can view his or her pay stubs and pay history with a few mouse clicks. We are also experimenting with the mobile- computing capabilities of WebFOCUS, both to "push" critical information to wireless devices such as Palm Pilots and to "pull" information from production information systems via e-mail.

STRENGTHS: WebFOCUS is a very logical reporting environment that gives our clients several report creation, presentation and output options. In addition to creating textual and graphic reports, we can generate PDFs and Excel spreadsheets. For security, WebFOCUS uses the lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) to support single sign- on, simplifying user authorization among multiple systems. We can pull security tables from other sources, as well as take advantage of database-level and OS- level security functions. This gives us lots of flexibility for authorizing users and protecting sensitive data.

WEAKNESSES: Initially, we discovered some limitations with page-feeds, although that was corrected in a later version of the software. We also found that the GUI didn't have everything we needed to create some reports. Since then, Information Builders has released newer versions of the software in which more FOCUS functionality is pushed into the WebFOCUS Developers Studio, giving us raw FOCUS coding through a GUI front end.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We looked at Web- based reporting solutions from multiple vendors. Information Builders' WebFOCUS was the most flexible reporting environment with the broadest data access capabilities and the strongest security. It was also easy to integrate with third-party systems such as our existing security tables and batch scheduler.

DELIVERABLES: We currently support more than 4,000 client companies and almost 70,000 worksite employees, with WebFOCUS generating an average of 400 reports per day. WebFOCUS is also being used as an in-house reporting tool. So far, approximately a dozen power users have used this reporting facility to create more than 450 reports which are accessible via the Administaff intranet.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The Information Builders team has been very helpful and attentive, both before and after the sale. It's clear they are very interested in our success. All in all, Information Builders is one of the best technology vendors I have worked with.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation, help and training materials are very complete. The information is available in hard copy and electronically, and is well integrated into the products.

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