Business-Driven Solutions for BI and Analytics: A Spotlight Q&A with Michael Corcoran of Information Builders

Originally published 18 July 2012

This BeyeNETWORK spotlight features Ron Powell's interview with Michael Corcoran, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Information Builders. Ron and Michael discuss how Information Builders helps their customers succeed with Hadoop, big data, social media, the cloud, software as a service, and industry-specific enterprise master data management solutions.

BeyeNETWORK Spotlights focus on news, events and products in the business intelligence ecosystem that are poised to have a significant impact on the industry as a whole; on the enterprises that rely on business intelligence, analytics, performance management, data warehousing and/or data governance products to understand and act on the vital information that can be gleaned from their data; or on the providers of these mission-critical products.

Presented as Q&A-style articles, these interviews conducted by the BeyeNETWORK present the behind-the-scene view that you won’t read in press releases.

Michael, Information Builders has been meeting the business intelligence needs of enterprises worldwide for more than 37 years. To what do you attribute your success and longevity in this volatile marketplace?

Michael Corcoran: A lot of it has been the focus on helping not just the specialists and analysts in the back office of a business, but also helping every employee have easier access to information and the increased ability to work with information on their own to make better decisions. For many of our 37 years, IT was more focused on transaction systems and collecting data, but in the last five years or so, the focus has shifted to having better business intelligence and better analytics. Information Builders has always been at the heart of that. Culturally, Information Builders is a company that builds a very tight partnership with its customers. We have many long-term customer relationships. These customers have been with us through a series of technology evolutions over the years, and they're still with us today. Many of the new companies that we're working with –organizations in both the public and private sectors – are very interested in working with a company like Information builders that is very hands-on and focused on turning a business or technical problem or challenge into a real solution.

One area that everybody's talking about is big data. What big data challenges are you helping your customers solve?

Michael Corcoran: Well, today there are many different channels of information that are driving a lot of activity in the big data area. Everyone – businesses, government organizations, healthcare organizations, and even the education market – is trying to harness not only the business data, but also the wealth of data that's being generated by machines, by mobile transactions, by utilities, and now the social data – people-generated data coming from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and the other social media sources. People are trying to understand the value that can be derived from that information. We're seeing people trying to collect and harness all of this data, and it’s driving the data volumes to levels we've never seen before. We used to talk about megabytes and gigabytes, and the large systems were terabytes. But today we're talking about petabytes, exabytes, and even zettabytes. There's an ongoing challenge as organizations take on these huge volumes of data and work to make it usable and meaningful.

As a result, in addition to the traditional types of approaches for deriving insight from data – such as better reporting, better aggregation of information, better visualization and dashboards – now organizations want to know how to apply more advanced visualization, advanced analytics, and even new areas like text analytics and sentiment analysis.

Obviously, there are a number of new companies and existing companies are focused on big data. Could you talk about some of the partners that you have in the area of big data?

Michael Corcoran: Absolutely. At Information Builders, we've always been very strong on data integration and data interfacing. I think we've built the production interface for almost any data structure that has ever been built – even the ugliest of structures in very specialized businesses and industries. But there are a lot of new technologies coming out of the big data space that are very interesting. People are looking at and evaluating technologies like the Hadoop framework with Hive and HDFS. There's MongoDB that also uses that MapReduce approach and non-SQL-based approaches to try to bring together structured and unstructured data. But a real wealth of the activity is in some of the interesting columnar type databases and other specialized high-performance databases. Thus, we're partnering very closely with Teradata, EMC Greenplum, 1010data, HP Vertica, ParAccel and, of course, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft. Those three are major providers of data for business intelligence (BI) purposes. With IBM having acquired Netezza, we have customers who are using Netezza as well.

Another major trend is social media, and Facebook has taken center stage lately. Can you share what you're doing in the area of social media and how that benefits your customers?

Michael Corcoran: Ron, I think the use cases for what to do with social media information are becoming clearer to organizations, and they see a lot of untapped potential. We recently introduced an interface to Facebook that takes advantage of all its underlying capabilities and exposes them to our analytical front ends.

We have the ability to extract data from Facebook, bring it into other sources and merge it with other data in an elegant fashion. We even use it with our search engine technology, which is a great way to store and analyze unstructured data through functions such as text analytics or sentiment analysis. This give our customers the ability to analyze what people are saying about their products or about their company to understand how this impacts their reputation. It is interesting when you look at certain cases how quickly these social media technologies and these sites can positively or negatively impact a product or a new movie. All of a sudden, the words “real time” take on a whole new flavor. I think retailers and consumer product manufacturers no longer have the luxury of after-the-fact analysis of, for example, a clothing line. If someone comes on TV with a new jacket, people might start using social media to say how great it is and that they want to get one. Obviously, the retailer wants to capture that right away. We're not going to be talking about real-time at the point of sale. We're looking at gathering data from the public before a new product even gets to the store so retailers can use that to drive more interest and more purchases.

Retail is a very big focus for Information Builders, isn’t it?

Michael Corcoran: Absolutely. Historically, most of our customers have been in financial services, manufacturing and the government, but now retail has been a tremendous boom for us. What's interesting is to look at the retailers that are really embracing these more advanced technologies and the clever ways they're using them. The successful ones – like the Dollar General, Auto Zone and Ace Hardware stores – are using social media data to become more proactive and predictive versus reactive.

Are your customers also interested in cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS)? If so, can you tell us what you're doing in that area?

Michael Corcoran: We find that there are a lot of companies who want to run their BI implementation in the cloud, but most of them still do it on premise. However, in many cases we're seeing a hybrid. I think the real thrust area for us has been in software-as-a-service. We see a lot of our customers or a lot of our business partners and other ISVs now wanting to adopt our WebFOCUS platform and use it to build applications that they'll provide publicly in the cloud. We're becoming embedded into many of the mainstream SaaS-type applications that you interact with every day in investment trading and telcos.

But one of things we've done in the new version, WebFOCUS 8, is to provide elaborate support for very large-scale software-as-a-service applications. Because these require very tight security, we provide detailed role-based security. We also help these organizations manage different versions of the same application for different customers. We've built extremely strong support to help them manage that multi-tenancy from an application delivery standpoint as well. We built entirely new metadata and security mechanisms to support these SaaS-type applications.

Salesforce.com has really solidified software as a service as a viable option for large and medium-size enterprises. Do you work with Salesforce.com?

Michael Corcoran: We do, and it was a challenge in the earlier days of Salesforce.com to integrate tightly with an external BI product. In the early days, most people would try to extract the data, perform an ETL process, and then bring the data on-premise and merge it with other enterprise data. We’ve moved far beyond that now and have built a very tight integration with Salesforce.com. Our BI platform runs directly inside the Salesforce environment and inside their portal. Any functionality of the WebFOCUS platform – a custom application, a custom dashboard, or even our ad hoc analytical tools – can be embedded right inside the portal environment within Salesforce with direct access to Salesforce.com data. We can go natively into those data structures for the BI end users so they can actually bring in external data, merge it and join it on the fly, which is a very unique capability. I think the way most BI platforms and products work, you really cannot do that eloquently with any kind of performance. We do it with high performance so it’s a very unique capability. Another exciting area is the Salesforce Chatter platform for collaboration and communication of information in Salesforce. We have very tight integration with Chatter as well so someone can go within the product, create some level of analysis, create some reports or a dashboard and then actually embed that into a conversation and share that information with colleagues through the Chatter interface. We see a lot of our customers adopting the Salesforce platform. It's interesting that people will be merging information from these software-as-a-service applications in the cloud like Salesforce with on-premise information. We're trying to simplify that for our customers.

You recently announced Omni Framework. How important is that product to Information Builders and your customers?

Michael Corcoran: We're certainly known as the premier business intelligence vendor. Since the early ‘90s, we’ve also been know as one of the top data integration vendors with interfaces to virtually every data store, database, and even application-level interfaces to every popular ERP or CRM system, legacy systems, etc. We have an adapter framework that can access any source of information regardless of format, structured or unstructured, real-time, or staged, whatever it may be. We’ve started to evolve from just providing the access and the integration of data to taking responsibility for the integrity of data. We've introduced a series of integrity products for master data management, data quality management, data profiling, and data governance to help people manage this better.

Now we’ve introduced the concept of the Omni Framework, packaged solutions that take components like master data management and give them a very strong vertical application focus. Over the course of this year and into next year, we’ll be introducing very targeted solutions in many different business verticals to help organizations get the 360-degree view of very critical business entities – for example, single view of customers, single view of product for a manufacturer or retailer, single view of the citizen for the government customers, or single view of the student. Wherever there are discrepancies in the data within multiple business or product lines, our customers will be able to pull together common definitions that all systems can utilize and support.

We're taking a very business-oriented approach to master data management. We're packaging it with data models and the integration of data quality rules. Omni Framework not only provides the integration and the master data capabilities, but also includes the analytics within that framework. The first implementation we've announced is Omni Patient, the first implementation to help healthcare institutions create the concept of a single view of patients. In many cases, they're going to use it to help capture lost revenue because in healthcare today it is no longer just individual hospitals. There are hospital systems that own multiple healthcare institutions, hospitals and clinics. The same patient might be going through a variety of facilities, and it's difficult for them to track and properly manage the relationship with that patient. Omni Patient solves that problem. We can create master patient indexes, for example, and actually create other consolidated views that will be very valuable for internal use and potentially pave the way for healthcare information exchange in future uses.

That makes sense – businesses buy applications or packages, but they really aren't tools focused. It sounds like you're going to the business audience and telling them you have the solution  rather than telling them you’ve got the tool and they have to figure it out.

Michael Corcoran: Absolutely. Especially in certain industries, they buy more and more packages in an isolated fashion. You could think of Omni Framework solutions as the über package that will integrate and create consistency across those other packages. We're seeing organizations quickly realize the value, benefit, the cost savings and the new revenue-generation potential. This is going to be a major focus for us, not just a new project.

It could save lives.

Michael Corcoran: In healthcare it will be used to save lives and improve the quality of patient care. In law enforcement, it could help predict crime and prevent crime. It will be used for the general good of everybody.

Michael, it's been a pleasure talking with you and learning how Information Builders is enabling your customers to achieve success in business intelligence and analytics.

SOURCE: Business-Driven Solutions for BI and Analytics: A Spotlight Q&A with Michael Corcoran of Information Builders

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward series. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at rpowell@powellinteractivemedia.com. 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel.

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