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Spotlight on BI

  • September 01 2007, 1:00am EDT

Eynav Azarya
CEO, Panorama Software

Panorama Software CEO sees process and context-sensitive views of BI through any application, desktop included.

Eynav Azarya was enthralled to program his first computer when he was just 12 years old, but it wouldn't be the only calling for the current CEO of Panorama Software. Azarya served as campaign manager for the Israeli Labor party in the 1990s and later as CEO of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. Senior political roles taught Azarya a good deal about marketing to consumers and businesses. Returning to his childhood avocation in 2001, Azarya joined Panorama and today leads the company from its Toronto headquarters. A truly global provider of business intelligence (BI) and performance management software, Panorama serves more than 1,000 name-brand customers in every industry and corner of the globe, as Azarya recently explained to DM Review Editorial Director Jim Ericson.

DMR: Five years before you joined Panorama, your company was near the top of the online analytical processing game but sold that business to Microsoft. What was the thinking at the time?
Eynav Azarya: When we sold that part of the business, we recognized that Microsoft was going to commoditize OLAP and data platforms. We saw that companies smart enough to take information and transfer it into knowledge in the hands of business users would be the ones that would win the lottery. Over the last 10 years that's where Panorama has been working, on top of existing platforms from Microsoft and SAP, and in the future with IBM and Oracle, to put information into the hands of the business user.

DMR: It looks like Multidimensional Expressions (MDX) has been the "glue" in your partnerships.
EA: MDX is the actual language we run to query the database, but to be very honest, we try to hide it from end users and to an extent from IT people. We provide them with easy-to-use solutions and the ability to self-report without understanding the sophisticated language in the back end. Most of the big platforms are following Panorama's and Microsoft's lead in MDX and are evolving to support the language. We see that as a huge opportunity for our customers - not to standardize on platforms but to standardize on an application. Currently every major organization has SAP or Oracle and they have Microsoft for e-business or departmental solutions. The CIO doesn't want to choose one standard because they understand that each platform has pros and cons.

DMR: Self-service reporting hasn't lived up to expectations and is a dirty word for many of the end users I converse with.
EA: I'll tell you how we look at it. Over the last 30 years, there was significant evolution on the back end where IT plays. But there was almost no real enhancement for business users and their ability to focus on what's relevant. The many business users I speak with in large global enterprises tell me they are overwhelmed with information. They are receiving 200 emails a day, dozens of reports, mostly data that distracts them. We suggest solutions that help business users focus on what's relevant to them. If they already know what's relevant, we point them to a guided analytics process, define a structured answer and define a structured action on top of that. These features are all enhanced in a new product line we are launching right now called Proactive Business Intelligence. In that product set is an amazing product called NovaView Spotlight that is helping end users get context-sensitive intelligence for every application they work in. If you are a business user working in Outlook and you read an email that deals with sales and a specific region, we automatically bring in all the structured data regarding that region and give you more information to make decisions on the spot.

DMR: How do you make the link between an abstract email and structured information?
EA: I would say that is our secret sauce. We have patent-pending applications behind the software, but it's all about the metadata. Panorama is a very rich metadata environment that can understand from any perspective who the end user is, who he collaborates with, the initiatives he relates to, and we can apply that in structured and unstructured environments like Outlook.

DMR: Without having driven this, it sounds like a black box.
EA: In a sense we want to make it a black box for business users but it certainly has an open API for IT people. We want to hide the complexity and smartness of the algorithms from the end users, provide them with the ability to focus on the relevant and guide them to a structured action. For IT people, it is about helping them add more data sources into the mix, the specifics people want to focus on when they use information. So, if I am the COO of a company and I would like every person in the company to see how each one of his actions affects profitability, I can certainly define that and ask IT to develop that as part of that black box. But to the business users it will look transparent.

DMR: We'll look forward to the reviews, but Proactive BI and Spotlight suggest a lot of role-based or industry-sensitive templates. How do you go about configuring or providing this to a specific customer when your customers seem to come from everywhere?
EA: That is an excellent question, and the answer is our partnerships with business process management [BPM] vendors. We believe that BI and BPM are merging together into what we call the proactive enterprise. This is an enterprise that is collaborative, adaptive and predictive. The proactive enterprise depends on merging the worlds of BI and BPM, so we connect the context-sensitive capabilities of business intelligence to what BPM vendors are doing to drive processes within the organization. As you can imagine, the business processes are always vertical-centric and now BI is gaining verticalization with that integration.

DMR: How did you define the value?
EA: We first chose the leader in the space, PegaSystems, and partnered to launch a specific integration. One of the first pilots we did was to define how BI can support an insurance claim or credit application process. After just a few minutes of discussion, we all understood the enormous value that it brings to the customer, that within one structured process you can make decisions and push processes toward other people in the organization. Larger BI vendors remain focused on static reporting from legacy systems and don't focus on interactivity within context-sensitive processes. The growth and mergers you will see will be with smaller and more nimble ISVs like us or PegaSystems. Where the organization has already chosen a BPM application, whether it is Pegasystems, Fuego, Metastorm or TIBCO, they will surely be able to use Panorama on top of that. If they decide to use their own IT people to develop those applications, they will be able to use Panorama as a standalone product.

DMR: The velocity of change within businesses makes this sound a bit too tidy.
EA: Fair enough, so here is an example. I recently spoke with the CIO of one of the largest CPG companies in the world who shared with me his vision, which, in his case, was built on SAP. He showed me the list of his 10 biggest competitors and, trust me, you know who they are. He told me something very interesting. All of his competitors are using SAP as their ERP platform. I told him it looked like he made the right decision to choose SAP. This gentleman looked back and said yes, but now we are all the same, I have no competitive advantage because of ERP, and I have invested many millions in ERP. He told me that a change in his ERP system takes 12 to 18 months, but he needs results in quarters or months. As such, the BI system is the only one that can enable new processes and define new business models that are not 100 percent connected to the ERP system. That is the model for supporting innovation with IT structure.

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