A Visionary of Loveliness

  • Written By: D. Geller
  • Published On: April 20 2000



A Visionary of Loveliness
D. Geller - April 20th, 2000

Event Summary

What is happening right now in your business? Has your Singapore subsidiary committed itself to a production contract that will push their machine utilization so high that you want to look for backup capacity elsewhere in the region? If so, which kinds of machines are most impacted? Are Web-based sales coming from the Northwest outstripping retail sales from the same region?

Informix Corporation (NASDAQ: IFMX) is aiming its Visionary 2.0 product at executives who want to monitor key components of their business. Visionary is a tool with which views of complex operational data can be created without detailed programming and made available to executives. When data is presented in Visionary the executive has a rich graphical overview that supports drill-down along multiple dimensions.

Development of Visionary applications - called "worlds" by the company - can be done by persons with rudimentary familiarity with database fundamentals. Both DBA's and business analysts would find development easy and quick. Very complex and fully graphical executive dashboards can be developed in a small number of weeks, and are easily extended to meet changing business requirements.

Visionary is not a data-mining tool, in the sense that data mining is used when you don't know what the right questions about the data are. Rather it enables rapid deployment of applications to satisfy the operational and strategic needs of decision makers. Applications built with Visionary, which would take months or person years to develop by more traditional means, do not impact the IT department's development backlog. To indicate the product's ease of use the company suggests that it be compared to "PowerPoint, not Power Builder." The product is fully ODBC compliant and web enabled, although developers work in client-server mode.

Market Impact

This is a polished product that will be competing against such business intelligence stalwarts as Cognos for general-purpose data analysis. An executive viewing an Informix demonstration will display the same "ooh" effect that was elicited by early demos of the Apple Lisa and Macintosh products, which is no small thing in today's graphics-rich environment. That the product offers rapid deployment without requiring expensive developers (not that even business analysts are cheap these days!) should make it easy for Informix to get the CIO to agree to the purchase.

We believe, though, that the real advantage will come when the company begins to market vertical solutions, in which the application layer - the dashboard - is already provided so that the development consists only in pointing the application to the right database tables. While Visionary might impact sales of some of its competitors, it will also prove to be an entry-level product that paves the way for complementary introduction of more extensive data mining capabilities into companies that at present are still at the level of spreadsheets and C++ implementations.

User Recommendations

We think the target user is the executive or high-level manager who is tired of seeing the data that support decisions weeks or months after the decisions are made - or are not made. This is the user who knows what data are essential to run the business, but until now has had no way to get it out of the company databases and data warehouses. These businesses (or divisions) are probably $10 million or larger.

Internet divisions of bricks-and-mortar companies will also be interested because of the product's capabilities for digging into the databases on the retail side. We think that most pure dot-com companies, whose data interests revolve around traffic and sales analysis will do better with a more targeted product, although Visionary will be useful down the road when they are dealing with supply and warehousing issues.

One fear that we have is that the dynamic SQL queries (compliant with the SQL-3 standard) will not be automatically generated as efficiently as possible by the user interface (for example, a query that does a table scan instead of an indexed lookup). The vendor has admitted that summary tables and views need to be created in the Operational Data Store to make the "worlds" efficient, even though they state that one of the goals of the product is to reduce the need for professional programmers. Reference sites have admitted that there is the possibility of a problem in this area, but can not confirm since the product was still in beta testing. The vendor suggested that most queries created by target users do not in general require optimization, but said that further study of the issue is being undertaken. Potential users should carefully weigh the tradeoff between database efficiency and ease of use. A database programmer may well be required to make the schema appropriate for use with this tool.

Editor's Note:
This article has been modified from its original form since the original publication date.

 
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