The last couple of years for Information Builders (IBI) have been a mixed bag. On the one hand, WebFocus, their flagship BI offering, has received stellar reviews, getting top marks from Gartner and Forrester in published research. On the other hand, growth stalled and sputtered a bit for the past year or two, and then the economy went south. But a strong new management focus, the clearing of the field as other leading independent BI vendors were acquired, and some timely new product introductions have set the table for a new surge by the New York-based vendor.
A large enough qualitative change makes a quantitative change happen.
Gerald Cohen, founder, President and CEO of IBI, made this remark in a recent conversation with IT Market Strategy. Cohen is one of the seminal thinkers in the software industry. At a time when reporting was laboriously done in COBOL, he created the hosted, interpreted environment that launched the fourth-generation language (4GL) product category and rode FOCUS to success and a huge installed based of mainframe, then Digital, and ultimately Windows-based reporting and analysis products. IBI later broke data access out into a separate business and still dominates the market for heterogeneous data gateways with their iWay subsidiary, which also provides a range of other integration solutions that often underlie connections between products from IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, and other giants. But the client-server BI wave was not kind: SAS, Cognos, and Business Objects took the newer paradigm to customers more quickly and aggressively, and built a substantial lead.
Michael Corcoran, Sr. V.P. and Chief Marketing Officer, chafes at the lag in market share IBI has suffered, but believes things are about to change for the better. “Those brands are going to struggle to retain their reputation for independence and broad usability,” he says. While Cognos and Business Objects built their visibility and revenues dramatically, IBI continued steady performance with one of the most loyal customer bases in the industry and a stellar reputation for quality and support. Equally important, a very high percentage of IBI’s customers describe WebFocus as their strategic platform, even if they have other tools scattered around the organization.
IBI’s team is filled with employees who have been with the firm for decades. [Disclosure – I worked for the firm two decades ago. Many of the people I knew there are still employees.] They are ramping up the sales organization and trying new go-to-market strategies. “We created a 3-5 day paid solution assessment model,” Corcoran says. “We take a half day with the CFO, VP of Sales, and VP of Marketing. We identify their pain points and help them build a strategy.” Preliminary pilot successes have led to a greater commitment to training additional resources. This is not the only change in the air; recent hires and long-timers alike are ramping new efforts in partnership deals with hardware and software firms and with SIs.
Perhaps the most visible example is IBI’s OEM relationship with longtime partner IBM on System i, where Cognos does not run natively. IBM includes WebFocus DB2 Web Query on every shipped unit. At the recent Common, IBM called it the “fastest growing software product in the platform’s history.” For IBI, it meant 25000 mostly new names. They get a royalty and they can upsell. Execution will be a challenge. A little probing showed that there are issues in getting to those customers; many are sold through IBM’s channel partners and some kinks still have to be worked out in identifying and getting to them. Still, this is a fresh new opportunity if the will and the spending are there to leverage it.
On the product front, IBI seems to have learned the lessons of the new world of open source; they are basing continuing innovations on code including: Tomcat application servers; the Lucene search engine (in Magnify, a new search offering); and R statistics in WebFocus RStat for predictive analytics. They are continuing UI innovation with Adobe Flex, Google Maps, and others.
Qualitative changes indeed – IBI seems (no pun intended) refocused; the buzz seems to be that it’s time to take the offensive. SIs are willing to talk again, after watching other leaders acquired by firms that will compete with them; quality and loyalty have built a reservoir of goodwill and referenceable customers for the sales force to leverage, and new products are allowing IBI to once again assert its thought leadership in emergent categories. Perhaps the quantitative changes Cohen spoke of are just around the corner.