Geller - April 20th, 2000
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This article has been modified from its original form since the original