Ron Powell (Editorial Director of the Business Intelligence Network): So based on your history, you were initially a reporting solution. And then you took the operational nature of that reporting and added business analytics to it. Is that a good summary of how InetSoft Technology evolved into a business intelligence software provider?
Luke Liang (CEO, InetSoft Technology): Yes, exactly. The business analytic aspect, though, I think there is a little difference here. Because analysis, itself, is a very widely used word, used to describe a range of activities. For the operational users, they typically are not looking for that type of analysis such as looking at historical data or doing heavy statistical analysis. Instead they are trying to get information out in a real-time fashion.
The analysis is therefore not that deep, but it is very, very wide. That is a key distinction of business analytics and academic analytics.
Powell: I see, yes. These users are typically business users. I think you mentioned ease of user was extremely important. Is your typical user a business user?
Liang: Yes, we actually divide users into three groups. First, we have the front-line users. Those people typically don’t have sophisticated training. They need very simple interfaces, and there should be close to zero training required to get them productive. That’s what is great about interactive dashboards. Simple pointing and clicking allows a great deal of navigation that is very intuitive.
The second type of user is the manager. They typically want a little more sophistication. They want to control their database access a little bit more. For example, they want to be able to change their own dashboards. They want to be able to drill down to the details. But they in no way want to become data analysts.
That’s the third group of people, the business analysts or the power users. Those are the people who specialize in understanding the database, understanding the data, so they can very dynamically generate new information.
And this is really the group that we see analyzing away, and really wanting to get into the powerful features beyond the reporting side. These are the people who are actively seeking this kind of analysis that we have been talking about here.
Powell: Now from a business intelligence perspective, there are hundreds of companies out there that are trying to provide traditional business intelligence and also focusing on business analytics. What makes InetSoft’s approach to BI different?
In the sense yes there so many traditional BI and reporting software vendors out there, but we have found this gap that we have talked about before. Not all needs were being served very well. Operational users were still the most underserved group.
In order to serve this group of people, we didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing the different BI vendors and looking for their weaknesses. We just found in general they tended to lack some fundamental capabilities.
So we focused on these to drive our own development. We came up with an “ICE” approach. “ICE” stands for “I” for integration, “C” for collaboration, and “E” for exploration. Those aspects are the ones we found typically lacking in both groups of vendors in different ways.
So first of all, let’s talk about exploration. The analytics function, which has been the focus of traditional business intelligence software, was aimed at the analyst, who needs that deep type of analysis capability. But it didn’t let other types of users explore. We found that a point we wanted to attack.
Then the second point of attack is collaboration. Most BI tools and reporting tools have treated information needs as individualized activities – “I need this report.” But the experience we have had with our users, a lot of them work closely with each other, helping each other out, reusing the data, reusing the work of others.
So to make an analogy to other recent technology shifts, it’s like going from the Encyclopedia Britannica to the Wikipedia in terms of collaboration around information publishing.
Then the third point is about integration. Integration - before BI or enterprise reporting - typically was an afterthought. You could not easily drop reporting solutions into other applications or processes. That, actually, is a strong point for InetSoft, something we’ve focused on since the beginning of the company. We have learned how much customers value this. They really want reporting and information access to be well integrated into their business. So our software architecture’s design is based on this principle of easy integration.