Sunday, March 23, 2014

Developing BI/BA Web and Mobile Applications with WebFOCUS

WebFOCUS for BI/BA Application Development

WebFOCUS is a powerful enterprise Business Intelligence and Analytics platform well-suited for today's complex and rapidly-changing environment. The software is produced by privately-held American software vendor, Information Builders.

As part of WebFOCUS, Information Builders provides two BI/BA application development tools, one for business developers and another for IT technical developers:

  • BI Portal and InfoAssist for business developers (web-based and mobile)
  • Windows-based Developer Studio for IT technical developers 

With WebFOCUS, companies can provide business users with self-service intelligence and analytics:

  • Dashboards and scorecards 
  • Self-service guided ad-hoc data exploration
  • Mobile BI with right-time data on any device 
  • InfoApps to easily analyze and manipulate information
  • Deep integration with desktop products such as Microsoft Excel and Adobe PDF 
  • Integration with open-source software such as R statistical programming language and Python 
  • Dynamic report scheduling and distribution, with real-time alerts
  • Integration with enterprise data and information management  


Note: Within the next month or two, Information Builders will release the next generation of Developer Studio which will be called the Application Studio. The new product’s “look and feel” will be consistent with that of InfoAssist. For example, Application Studio will also have a ribbon-based user interface.

BI Portal and InfoAssist

The WebFOCUS BI Portal enables business users to easily create and share sophisticated portals, launch pages, reports, and graphs hosted within the corporate WebFOCUS environment or in the cloud. The users have no software to install.

InfoAssist, the report and graph layout tool, is appropriate for business users as well as for light-weight IT development. Information Builders will license BI Portal/InfoAssist based on a certain number of users (e.g., one hundred) or on an unlimited basis.

WebFOCUS 8 comes with sophisticated multi-tenant security enabling companies to open up web and mobile BI to not only their internal employees, but also to external partners and customers.

Picture: BI Portal with InfoAssist




Windows-based Developer Studio (IDE)

The Developer Studio is a Windows-based IDE enabling IT technical developers to build complex, interactive BI applications hosted within the corporate WebFOCUS environments or in the cloud. 

However, the Developer Studio product is not an appropriate tool for business users. Instead, Information Builders provides for business users the web and mobile InfoAssist product.

Picture: Developer Studio IDE 





Developer Studio Features

The Developer Studio provides an IT BI/BA developer with a variety of software development features, including: 
  • Metadata Management: tool for generating and maintaining the metadata layer 
  • HTML Composer: layout tool for designing and creating web launch pages 
  • Procedure Viewer: layout tool to visually display multiple-step procedural logic 
  • Report Painter: layout tool for designing and creating interactive and dynamic reports 
  • SQL Report Wizard: tool for building reports using SQL requests 
  • Define Dialog: tool for creating virtual columns using business rules 
  • Join Painter: tool for logically connecting tables across the enterprise 
  • HTMLForm: tool for embedding HTML commands inside WebFOCUS procedures 
  • Match Wizard: tool for logically matching tables across the enterprise for either join-like functionality or exceptions
  • For creating graphs, Developer Studio utilizes the InfoAssist product  

Developer Studio Editions

IT technical developers can purchase and install one of two different “editions” of the Developer Studio product:
  • Report Developer Edition
  • Full Edition: includes MAINTAIN development and full personal WebFOCUS image 

Information Builders offers a lower-priced Edition for IT technical developers who do not need to develop online database maintenance applications or have their own personal WebFOCUS environment. Typically, few IT technical developers need all of the features within the Full Edition.

Report Developer Edition

The Report Developer Edition of Developer Studio has all of the features needed to build web and mobile BI applications, including the Procedure Viewer, HTML Composer, Report Painter, Join Painter, Financial Modeling Language Painter, Reporting Server Management, and Change Management features. 

An IT technical developer can download and install this edition of the Developer Studio on his or her workstation for a reasonable one-time license fee plus on-going annual maintenance fee.

Full Developer Studio Edition

The Developer Studio IDE can also be purchased in the “Full Edition” version with its own personal, stand-alone WebFOCUS environment—a WebFOCUS Client Tier (web server, Java app server, client components, security repository, etc.) and a WebFOCUS Reporting Server. This provides a personal “sandbox” for testing WebFOCUS functionality. 

In addition, the full edition of Developer Studio comes with the MAINTAIN development product for creating web and mobile database maintenance applications. This full edition is limited to those IT technical developers who perform MAINTAIN development or to those few individuals with a valid business case for a personal BI environment.

Note: The IT technical developer’s version of Developer Studio must be kept in sync with the other components of WebFOCUS environments. In other words, the developer should not install a client release higher than the software release of the WebFOCUS web tier and BI server.

GUI Code Generators

These WebFOCUS tools enable a visual application development process by providing layout tools that can translate the design and generate the necessary computer programming instructions.

When developing BI applications with WebFOCUS, several languages are involved:
  • InfoAssist: generates the FOCUS 4GL 
  • Developer Studio’s Report Painter: generates the FOCUS 4GL 
  • Developer Studio’s HTML Composer: generates HTML, JavaScript, and XML 

Being a business user tool, InfoAssist does not provide access to the generated instructions. Developer Studio, on the other hand, lets the IT technical developer get to a text editor from where he or she can modify the generated instructions.

There are really only two valid situations where the IT technical developer needs to manually type instructions: the FOCUS 4GL’s Dialogue Manager and the HTML’s JavaScript. Both are procedural scripting languages that accompany the main logic.

There is no reason for an IT technical developer to manually change any of the actual HTML/XML logic generated by the Developer Studio’s HTML Composer other than to add JavaScript. 

Likewise, the IT technical developer must be careful when modifying the 4GL non-procedural code used for creating reports, graphs, and extract files. It is possible to make manual changes not recognized by the Developer Studio’s parser which will cause the layout tools to fail. Where this might happen is when the developer creates a highly-dynamic layout that cannot be painted.

WebFOCUS technical developers should consciously avoid developing BI/BA applications that cannot be opened in the graphical layout tools. While necessary in some complex situations, having “non-paintable” code dramatically increases the skill-set requirements, shifting from individuals who can use visual GUI development to those who must know how to hand-code the 4GL instructions.

Should You Use WebFOCUS?

A list of Information Builders' customers looks like the "Who's Who" of global businesses and government agencies. For over a decade, Gartner has included Information Builders in the Leader's quadrant for enterprise BI products. 

WebFOCUS runs on a variety of platforms (e.g., Windows, UNIX, Linux, and mainframes) and can scale to handle millions of users. It provides super-secure web access to sensitive data, which can be stored in many diverse formats (Information Builders has always been a well-known provider of enterprise data adapters through their iWay Software brand, partnering with many of the other leading software vendors). 

WebFOCUS provides business users with easy-to-use yet robust BI/BA tools. It provides IT developers with a sophisticated IDE to produce robust self-service web and mobile applications. 

WebFOCUS is highly dynamic. Unlike old-fashioned report writers like Crystal Reports which were limited to a single static layout, a WebFOCUS procedure can dynamically restructure itself to produce thousands of different report versions.  

Legacy tools can be modernized into WebFOCUS. For example, SQL routines can be directly embedded inside the WebFOCUS language to leverage legacy assets. For many other reporting tools, there are utilities to automatically assess and transform into WebFOCUS in order to reduce the time and risk of the BI modernization initiative. 

For more information, visit the WebFOCUS website

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With over 20 years of industry experience, Doug Lautzenheiser has provided business intelligence services for well-known organizations such as Procter & Gamble, JPMorgan Chase, Omnicare, Wendy’s International, the State of Indiana, and the State of Oklahoma. ComputerWorld recognized one of Doug's projects with honors for innovative use of technology.  Doug is a featured blogger on BI software at Smart Data Collective.

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