BACKGROUND: Marquette University is a 10,000-student Jesuit higher education institution located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

PLATFORMS: Digital Alpha 8400 cluster UNIX platform running the Oracle8 database and several Information Builders' tools including the FOCUS reporting environment, EDA/SQL data access middleware and the WebFOCUS Internet managed reporting environment. EDA/SQL is also installed on VAX clusters for access to legacy data sources.

PROBLEM SOLVED: As higher education institutions are facing leaner economic climates, it is becoming increasingly necessary to take a business approach to managing and delivering operations. To reduce operating costs and gain access to the latest IT solutions, a migration from legacy VAX systems to an open systems, UNIX environment based on Digital 8400 Alpha platforms and the Oracle8 database was undertaken. Reporting was one of the first applications to be reengineered for the open environment because the legacy tool required dedicated operators to run batch jobs. Information Builders' middleware and reporting tools were chosen to deliver a new, user-based reporting environment, with WebFOCUS deployed for Web-based reporting.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: WebFOCUS produces HTML reports that can be generated on the fly. Because it supports HTTP, WebFOCUS fully supports the hyperlinks that make Web navigation so flexible. For instance, WebFOCUS reports can embed URLs which allow the user to hot link to related information or reports. WebFOCUS gives us the flexibility to not only provide menu-based access, but proactive distribution via e-mail and "bursting," where large volumes of reports can be generated or distributed during off hours. WebFOCUS is part of the FOCUS desktop that allows reports to be deployed in the modes of our choice, including HTML, Java and Windows-based client/server.

STRENGTHS: As part of the FOCUS family, WebFOCUS's chief strength is its strong integration with IBI's reporting and middleware tools. IBI's product support was also a key strength.

WEAKNESSES: Installation and configuration were more complex tasks than expected. For instance, the initial version of WebFOCUS did not support Windows 95 long file names for master files. IBI has promised to correct that in the next release.

SELECTION CRITERIA: There are many Web-based reporting solutions available. What was important was integration with the necessary data access middleware and report servers. We chose WebFOCUS because IBI delivered not only a robust Web reporting environment, but seamless integration with all the back-end tools as well. IBI's support of Adobe Acrobat PDF output formats was icing on the cake.

PRODUCT DELIVERABLES: We have gone live with student records and will soon ramp up with financial aid and fundraising. Eventually, all internal business systems and the help desk will use WebFOCUS as the front-end environment for standard and ad hoc reporting. Thanks to the Web, we will be able to extend the reach of the reporting system both on and off campus to any user with a standard HTML browser. These applications are highly mission critical, since they deliver the basic information by which a university runs ­ and because of the large majority of students who receive some form of financial aid. As we entered production, we learned a few lessons on how to package data, so the organization is more logical and intuitive to the users. We are currently fine-tuning the business views to make the data more accessible. In the future, we plan to augment the Web reporting environment with IBI's InfoCubes, which will simplify report generation even further by providing standard report templates for popular reports.

VENDOR SUPPORT: IBI is the most responsive vendor that we have ever worked with. For instance, WebFOCUS was installed in a single day, with a trainer arriving the following day. This occurred barely after the ink on the contract was dry. Additionally, IBI was very flexible when it came to our budget constraints; they worked out terms that allowed us to receive the necessary tools and features around our budgeting schedule.

DOCUMENTATION: Since Web-FOCUS is a fast-changing product, we discovered that the documentation was not always up to date.


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