DM Review first featured Information Builders in 1996, in their 21st year of successful operation. In 2000, with their 25th anniversary approaching, DM Review conducted another interview to report on the company's new achievements. Now in their 30th year, we decided to drop in on Gerry Cohen, president and CEO of Information Builders, to elicit his thoughts on the many successes from the first 30 years of history making and where the industry is headed in the next thirty. From his office overlooking Madison Square Garden, Cohen shared the company's latest achievements.
"In November, we announced that we closed another positive growth quarter. Quarter over quarter, we experienced a 10.7 percent increase in revenue and a 28.6 percent increase in new license revenue. We added 55 new name accounts during the quarter - the largest in our history. Organizations continue to recognize the value of business intelligence applications that deliver information to facilitate informed decision making, while simplifying the user experience. We have achieved success because our core expertise is in complex environments that have an inherent need for industrial-strength solutions, and the experience we have garnered in those ecosystems continues to benefit our customers as we enable them to focus and capitalize on operational activities that deliver direct results to their bottom line," says Cohen. "We've been in the sweet spot of this marketplace from the day we started and consistently delivered the business benefit to our customers."
Cohen's leadership has enabled Information Builders to shape their technology to match the needs of their customers - and the customer list for Information Builders is quite impressive. Included are companies such as Holland America Line, Sony, RBC Royal Bank and Ford Motor Company. The key driver for Information Builders is their customers. While the fundamentals remain consistent, business processes evolve with change in business environments. Keeping customers as the focal point of evolution allows Information Builders to turn to its customers for guidance and direction when at a technology crossroad. "Our customers are responsible for our best technology innovations these past thirty years, and they are what will keep us at the cutting edge of innovation for the next thirty years," says Cohen. "Let me share how our customers have helped shaped our evolution."
Headquarters: New York City, with 47 offices and 26 worldwide distributors
"Fundamentally, we began in the era of IBM mainframes. In that era of the 'big iron,' we introduced our first product - FOCUS. This turned out to be a blockbuster product, we sold it everywhere, and it was really in the center of what we call enterprise reporting. Soon after that the market shifted and while most people think that the PC came next, we actually witnessed the minicomputer revolution with Digital, UNIX and the IBM AS/400. Our customers wanted to be with us everywhere, so we put our software on every machine. By the time PCs came in and people started talking about client/server, they wanted to hook their PCs to all these different sources of information. So, in the late '80s, we were the inventors of the fourth generation language. FOCUS was based on that language. We reached more than a million users on FOCUS, working on virtually every computer platform, from mainframe to PC," he proudly notes. "One of the great advantages of doing this - which we didn't appreciate at the time - is that we learned how to operate on every machine and how to read all the different databases," he adds.
"At that time we also invented data access middleware - that is, we put a piece of software between wherever the data is and whatever was being used for an end voice. That product was called EDA SQL. With the arrival of the Internet, we combined the FOCUS and EDA SQL products. The EDA product was server-based and had the capability of reading all the databases. We recognized that by converting the output to HTML, our customers could utilize the browser to pull the data they required. We built a new suite of products called WebFOCUS, which participates in the full spectrum of business intelligence capabilities including data management, query and analysis, data visualization, mapping enterprise reporting, and information delivery and management," says Cohen.
"As EAI - enterprise application integration - became a topic of interest, there was also a significant change on the EDA SQL side. We broadened our EDA line into application integration in the late nineties. As more of our customers invested in packaged ERP and CRM applications like Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP and Siebel, we built a huge line of middleware products so that we could provide a solution that spans the spectrum of varying levels of data latency across these disparate data and application sources. As businesses truly became 'on-demand,' there was continued need for organizations to leverage their legacy data and real-time information stemming from 'live' operational systems. While we achieved this technologically, we had a brand identity crisis. People recognized Information Builders for WebFOCUS and didn't understand how we could be in the EAI business. For this reason, we created iWay Software, which is a fully owned subsidiary of Information Builders. iWay Software enables us to build and extend the power of EDA in an environment dedicated to rapid integration solutions and highly responsive customer service. While we leverage iWay to strengthen our complete business intelligence offering to customers and differentiate us from our BI competitors from a brand identity point of view, these are two separate areas of business," adds Cohen.
Capitalizing on this wealth of experience and realm of expertise, Information Builders continues to add tremendous value by overcoming their customers' business challenges of disseminating information across an ever-growing global workforce and customer base.
Outside the Four Walls
"We probably have more applications than anybody in the world for organizations that want to share information with their extended enterprise - employees, customers, partners, suppliers and even shareholders," continues Cohen. "Some of our customers truly have an unlimited number of users on the Internet and others use our applications to send information to their customers, often numbering in the tens of thousands. We started out a number of years ago with an installation at Adminstaff - they focus on human resource management. Our WebFOCUS solution manages their reporting environment through a single facility. Using WebFOCUS, Adminstaff client companies were given access to a repository of data on employees, payroll, 401(k), employee benefits and other human resources information. Additionally, employees at customer locations can view their pay stubs and pay history with a few mouse clicks. That's really an area where we specialize - helping companies share information outside their four walls," explains Cohen.
This wide distribution of information inside and outside of the four walls is what Cohen calls self-service information systems. "We specialize in self-service information systems," he says. "Some of our competitors specialize more in what I would call 'write your own' reports. We've learned that there are not a whole lot of people who want to write their own reports. There are many more people who just want to click and get the report - self-service kinds business intelligence applications."
Operational Business Intelligence
Information Builders' business intelligence presence is in what Cohen calls the operational business intelligence sector. He explains, "We came out of production reporting - doing the heavy lifting of reports for big banks and insurance companies, filing all their government reports and distributing all of their information. Currently, there are three companies in Gartner's Leader Quadrant for business intelligence. We all do things a little differently, and we have a slightly different set of clientele. I don't want to characterize our competitors, but in some respects, they are still more in the business unit/departmental divisions. They came out of the more traditional business intelligence world of slice and dice. In any organization, there are not a whole lot of analysts - the ones who slice and dice - but there are a lot of users who want and need information. For example, for an insurance company, we were able to satisfy the need for distributing information to all of the agents in the field, while our competitors may only be enabling some of the research analysts a view into what is being sold. As I have said before, if you have a need to distribute information to all of your customers, we're the product of choice for the heavy lifting in the Internet world."
"We strongly believe that customers benefit from working with software companies with years of domain expertise because of the complex environments that need broad and deep understanding," says Cohen. "While a lot of organizations make choices of products and vendors for the wrong reasons, we pride ourselves on having long-term relationships with our customers for years and years because we're the right vendor who fits their evolving needs and business environments and their culture as it conforms to these changes," says Cohen. "We have a great work ethic here to take care of our customers, and I believe our customers experience those values firsthand by working with us. To the readers of this article, I would like to say that if you're not working with us, give us a try! If you are working us, thank you very much!"
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