Talking to Your Data: In 1975, and Today
Last week I had the pleasure of being a guest on a business radio program, and the host brought up something that has been on my mind ever since. He shared that Bill Gates once said the most important product in technology development is the mindset.
That got me thinking about Information Builders’ mindset – what makes this company unique, what has helped to differentiate it and make it successful for decades, even when many other software organizations were not so lucky?
Information Builders’ first product in 1975 was FOCUS (an acronym for “For Online Computer Users”), a very early iteration of what, in the 40+ years following, evolved into the suite of WebFOCUS business intelligence (BI) and analytics solutions Information Builders is known for today. I daresay that this lineage suggests FOCUS was successful, and points to something at the core of the product that made it resonate with customers: the inherent desire we had, even back then, to build a tool that would cooperate with as many machines as possible and thus be utilized by as many people as possible. We wanted this tool to do a simple, essential thing: allow users to talk to their data, to their computers, and to find out what’s in there.
Back then, this was a lot simpler – there were only a few different types of databases, but still, the ability for FOCUS to read and work with every type of database was a huge competitive advantage. It’s still important today, though the number of databases we support is more than 100 different types. We can work with every relational, NoSQL, and Hadoop database and then some. Additionally, if a customer has a proprietary database, or simply a new one we haven’t worked with before, it’s easy to create a plug-in and allow our software to connect.
Today, this desire to put powerful data tools in the hands of all potential users, even those who aren’t familiar with the technical side of the product but want to gain the insights it offers, is still there. It manifests in a number of different ways, but all comes back to what we call the “democratization of data.” Since non-technical users make up the majority of an organization’s workforce, failing to give them access to data insights would be quite the missed opportunity. So, Information Builders developed InfoApps.
InfoApps are designed to deliver informational applications to non-technical users on their terms, without requiring any development background or knowledge of analytical tools. Putting interactive analytics content such as data visualizations, charts, graphs, and reports in the hands of users allows them to gain more quantitative insight into their work and decisions, without the need to involve dedicated analytics teams or IT staff. Everyone can easily use these apps – this is what we mean by data democratization.
InfoApps are a tool, but what they’re driving at is the idea of self-service BI and analytics – the ability for employees to independently discover and satisfy their data needs and create content as mentioned above. There are enormous benefits that organizations can realize by implementing a of self-service BI environment – workers don’t have to choose between fast decisions or better-informed ones (they’d normally be stuck waiting during reporting backlogs), technical support teams are freed to work on other, forward-looking strategic tasks, and much more.
If you want to learn about self-service BI and analytics, contact us today or read more here. While Information Builders has come a long way since 1975, and has evolved with technology, our central goal remains the same: get people access to their information, and help them make the most of it. Our mindset has always been that a data-enabled workforce is a formidable one, and we want to help our customers get there – we’re just finding new, more effective ways to get data into the hands of all.