Business intelligence has been around forever," remarks Rony Ross, executive chairman and founder of Panorama Software. "People have always been working with reports, and it's not a new concept to have management reporting. However, one of the interesting trends that we see today is that there is an insatiable demand for information, and the need for accurate information in support of decision making has only increased with the economic downturn. Obviously, all companies now have to know what works and what doesn't. They have to know what makes a profit and what doesn't. The need is very urgent and highly valued."
"Panorama's mission is to help companies achieve better business results by extending the reach of business intelligence [BI] to the largest number of users inside and outside the enterprise," says Ross. "What we are all about is making BI as useful and as prevalent and as popular as Microsoft Excel. Over the years, organizations have accumulated enormous amounts of data from their operational systems, CRM, ERP, HR huge databases with terabytes of data. Most companies already have the data they need to support the operational aspects of their organization; however, they lack the ability to easily access and leverage this data in their management decision-making process. What we find with many of our customers is the need to deliver relevant data to all decision-makers throughout the organization so that it can provide benefit. Otherwise, if you limit access to the executive suite, you're not going anywhere," emphasizes Ross. "Anybody who manages some process within an organization is a decision-maker. If you succeed in delivering the right data to these people, you can really extend and improve your overall decision-making capability."
According to Ross, there is great value in also extending access to data to external suppliers and customers. "The next step we see now is that organizations are extending the decision-making reach outside of the corporate firewall. For instance, we have a supermarket chain that is distributing data to their suppliers. Rather than taking it upon themselves to inform their suppliers of the trends and inventory levels, they deliver the data to the suppliers for integration into their own production and delivery processes so that they can supply right on time. In order to meet your goals, you have to extend the reach of BI both within the firewall and outside of the corporate firewall and you have to do it in a smart and very intelligent way," says Ross. "The business intelligence that Panorama delivers is the business intelligence that empowers people in their decision making. The type of environment that we create makes it possible for people to really analyze, view and drill through. Real life is about people making decisions, and we like to give people things that will make them successful."
Panorama NovaView BI Platform 3.5
Available as of April 2003, the latest version of Panorama's flagship solution, Panorama NovaView BI Platform, is a comprehensive business intelligence platform that provides robust analytics, consistent and easy-to- use client interfaces, a high-performance Web application server, and content management and information delivery services. In version 3.5, Panorama introduced a new client option that integrates robust multidimensional analytics and collaboration into Microsoft Excel, allowing decision-makers to use Panorama's tools and continue to use the familiar functionality of Excel. In this latest release, Panorama also enhanced its NovaView Intelligence Server with new redundancy and failover mechanisms to ensure users worldwide have secure, always-on BI access regardless of where and when they need it. These features are combined with new alerting/notification capabilities, content management, information delivery services and data auditing capabilities.
Founded in Israel with North American headquarters in Toronto, Panorama Software was established by Ross in 1993. With degrees in mathematics and statistics, a master's degree in computer science and an MBA, Ross worked in a high-tech company, was director of MIS for a textile manufacturer and worked for a software company prior to founding Panorama Software. "I had quite a wide background that enabled me to understand how people use software, how people manage IT and how organizations really consume data. I came into product development after I had been a user," says Ross, crediting that experience for arming her with the knowledge and tools to take the entrepreneurial plunge. "I grew up in Israel a small and growing country. It was a great experience. There is a unifying sense that you get from living in a country that is always fighting for its independence, for its existence, for its success these are very strong, very deep experiences. In that respect, Israelis are very attached to their country and to their culture, and that," notes Ross, "has had an enormous impact on my life. I think that the fact that I lived in the U.S. and came back to Israel to start Panorama was a factor in the company's success. Panorama's development center is in Israel, and Israel is really a hotbed of innovative technology. I think it all stems from developing applications for the military. We really needed to rely on ourselves, so we developed very extraordinary skills in analyzing data and computer systems for military types of applications. The government of Israel started sponsoring R&D efforts in order to bring some of the technologies from the military to the commercial sector. That has really spun off a large high- tech industry. In fact, Israel has the largest number of companies listed on NASDAQ, save only for the United States and Canada. If I had not been able to begin Panorama in Israel, I probably wouldn't have had so much opportunity, and I wouldn't have had the level of talent that is available to really make a difference. The founding of Panorama was my first independent venture, and it fit me like a glove."
Executive Chairman and Founder
Ross recounts the company's early history, explaining, "We began development of our first BI tool in 1994. At that time, we identified three major gaps in BI. First and foremost was the user interface. The user interfaces provided by the other products in the market were far too complex. They required programming and were neither intuitive nor easy to use. BI solutions are only beneficial if people can use them. For these reasons, we developed our concept of a user interface which has been adopted by the majority of the BI industry. We also implemented the 'plug the data and play' concept where you just plug the data in and you have a fast, easy-to-deploy solution versus other solutions that usually required programming, planning and the development of a user interface. The third issue that we addressed at the time was that of how to create an optimum size multidimensional database. The question of how to do that was already on the table. Other software companies created very grand multidimensional databases, but they were not efficient as far as really minimizing the database to the right size for the enterprise. If your multidimensional database or cube is too big, then it really doesn't matter if you have a great hardware box because storing it, backing it up, calculating and performance are just going to be terribly expensive and time-consuming. We developed a system to create an optimum size database that also learned from user experience how to optimize that size and modified itself constantly to fit the way the people were really using the multidimensional store. We had a great product with an attractive user interface, a powerful engine and an out-of-the-box capability into which we packed all the functionality that a customer would want," Ross explains.
Panorama Software Fact Table
Year Founded: 1993
Number of Employees: 35
Number of Customers: More than 500 worldwide
The Multidimensional Aspects of Rony Ross
Last Books Read: I read a lot. I don't know how I ever find the time, but I do. Mostly fiction. In the last month, some memorable books include: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Austerlitz by Winfried Georg Sebald and White Teeth by Zadie Smith.Most Memorable Movies: How can you decide? I am an enthusiastic moviegoer and there are so many great ones. Examples from recent years: Fargo; Being John Malkovich; Talk to Her; Pulp Fiction; and Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
Favorite Entertainers: Cirque Du Soleil
Most Entertaining Game: I am a poor loser, so I prefer cryptic crossword puzzles and other solitaire-type games such as FreeCell.
Most Respected Politician: David Ben-Gurion (the first Israeli Prime Minister)
Dream Car: It has not yet been invented, but it would be a cool, short, four-wheel-drive vehicle with pampering on the inside yet not too slick on the outside. Powerful, yet friendly. Luxurious, yet easy to park.
Perfect Vacation Spot: Anywhere as long as it is with my friends.
Most Admired Individual: My father, a real self-made, wise and loving person.
Best TV Show: Old movies or English series, such as "Yes, Minister." I have always liked British humor. (You can tell I have little time for TV.)
Favorite Sports Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Club
Hobby: My work is my best hobby.
Favorite Types of Music: Opera, Classic, Country, Latin and Jazz
Favorite Food: Hummus and thinly sliced Mediterranean salad
Favorite Beverage: Caffè latte
Ross continues to note that customer input has been key to Panorama's success. "One of the earliest strategic decisions that I made was that Panorama would not argue with any customer about why we should develop a special feature if they requested it. If they asked us for it, they must know why they wanted it," says Ross. "What happened is that we came up with a very robust and highly functional product. It turned out that all of these very unique custom features became a competitive edge for our software."
Another early strategic decision Ross made was to adopt Microsoft's basic technology the operating system, the infrastructure, the standards, the development environment and eventually the browser for the development of the Panorama OLAP technology. It was an interesting decision that had a significant impact on the company.
By 1996, Panorama had a great OLAP product that was significantly rooted in Microsoft technology, and Ross decided to try to arrange a meeting with Microsoft. Explains Ross, "We didn't know that Microsoft was really going to go into BI they had already made that decision, we just weren't aware of it. We had a three-hour meeting that went extremely well. In fact, they took us to lunch and asked if I would consider selling them my company. They wanted to buy our development plans and our knowledge. They were not planning to use the product as it was in 1996; they were going to develop it further into OLAP Services. I wanted somebody to continue to support our existing customer base, and that's why we did a technology acquisition deal with Microsoft, whereby the product technology and six of my development staff moved to Redmond as Microsoft employees. Then in 1997 when Microsoft declared their intention to stick to the server side of the business and not develop a dedicated BI front end beyond Excel pivot tables I convinced them to let us continue to develop the front end that would work with their engine. That's how I got to go back into business and back into development. That is what started the development of Panorama's second-generation product a full client front end to Microsoft OLAP Services / analysis services," states Ross.
Ross continues, "In 2000, we started the development of our third-generation product a BI platform that was completely Web based. It incorporated a variety of front ends: a rich desktop client and two versions of browser-based thin clients. Most recently with our v3.5 release, we introduced our latest client, NovaView for Microsoft Excel. One of the unique aspects of Panorama's platform is the consistency of user experience across all of our clients. Whether someone uses our full desktop client or our Java thin client, they have the exact same look and feel. This consistency is one of our core differentiators and just one of the many reasons why companies choose Panorama as their BI platform."
During the past six months, Panorama has undergone a major change that Ross views as the opportunity to grow Panorama to the next level. "We really want to make Panorama one of the leading BI companies in the industry not only through strong partnerships with companies such as Microsoft, but also on our own merit," she emphasizes. "We expanded our operations in North America, and opened our North American headquarters in Toronto. We hired a new CEO, Janice P. Anderson, a former senior executive with Lucent Technologies. Janice brings great experience in operations and the ability to grow Panorama's global presence. We are continually adding new functionality and product features to our BI development platform, making it even easier for our partners and customers to develop their own applications vertical or other on top of our technology. Our Web components can be seamlessly integrated inside portals and other applications. NovaView Intelligence Server, our high-performance Web application server, optimizes the performance of OLAP over the Web. Microsoft provides the infrastructure very fast and very effective and we provide the front end and the additional Web plumbing that's really required to make this an enterprise solution."
Delivering the Competitive Edge
The decision Ross made when founding Panorama to always listen carefully to users of Panorama products may be the dominant reason for the company's success. As Ross explains, "Users really know what they want. They're not just coming to bat with some crazy notion. They really know how they're going to exploit our product, its functionality, performance and user interface. Very often we find ourselves in competitive situations against bigger, more established and more powerful companies. We win on the basis of a better product and better functionality because people know they cannot just settle for just a mediocre product. They must have excellence if they want to get a competitive edge from their management systems. That's what they want, and we deliver that competitive edge!"
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