SAN MATEO (03/06/2000) - Many organizations rely on hard-copy, greenbar reports for their accounting, sales, and inventory data. These mainframe-style reports can contain useful information, but of course their usefulness is limited because paper is a static medium that confines data and inhibits analysis.
What's more, hard-copy distribution is costly and inefficient because operators must print, burst, and deliver reports manually.
Monarch/ES, a new solution from Datawatch Corp., stores electronic versions of reports on Internet-enabled servers, letting browser-equipped users locate, view, and manipulate report content. Of course, posting greenbar reports on the Web is not new. But what sets Monarch/ES apart is that it can dynamically transform greenbar report content into HTML tables. When coupled with its new thin-client architecture, user-friendly query interface, and formidable data manipulation capabilities, Monarch/ES earns an overall score of Excellent. By using Monarch/ES to disseminate report content electronically, organizations can leverage their existing reporting systems and legacy data.
To test Monarch/ES, I first configured an Oracle 8 database by creating a new instance; then I ran SQL scripts to create tablespaces, tables, users, and rights. Next, I installed the Monarch/ES report server using InstallShield to set up the server components and diskgroups. I then created several sample users and a fictitious accounting department, along with group security rights (Monarch/ES supports group authorities for departmental needs). My next step was to install the optional Monarch/ES Report Portal and configure my Internet Information Server (IIS) Web environment. Finally, I configured Microsoft Transaction Server. In total, configuring the database, server, and Monarch/ES took me 7 hours. (If you prefer, Datawatch will perform these steps for you at no charge). Unfortunately, the software is not available as a Unix or Linux solution.
Once the configuration was complete, I created templates for several complex accounting reports that had multiple control breaks and footer lines.
(Monarch/ES' templates associate field attributes and transformation routines with report content.) The template definition process was mercifully easy.
First, I used the software's GUI-based modeling tool to "trap" report lines containing the data I wanted to extract. Next, I used a wizard to automatically identify fields in each trapped line. I was impressed by this function -- it accurately assigned field attributes, such as size and type, to raw report content. Typically, IT staffers would define the data extraction/transformation templates once for each type of report stored by Monarch/ES. For example, one template might be associated with a trial balance report, another with an income statement, and so on.
When end-users query the report archive, Monarch/ES uses these templates to answer their queries. And that's the real power of the software: It lets users easily transform and manipulate data that's been extracted from reports.
Without doing any programming, I could quickly derive new fields, aggregate data on multiple keys, perform complex string manipulation, filter data, and perform date arithmetic. Monarch/ES' new Java-based thin-client interface features a single page with five tabs: Favorites, Saved Searches, Simple Searches, Advanced Searches, and News. And because the package supports nested conditional logic and dozens of mathematical and statistical functions, you can perform very complex analyses.
Moreover, I was impressed by the simple design of the interface and the ease with which I could search for data across multiple reports. For example, I ran a query to find all activity for a range of general ledger account numbers in the first quarter of 1999. Monarch/ES quickly retrieved data from several reports, then automatically converted the data to an HTML table. I summarized the results and was then presented with more HTML tables. I could also move data from HTML to Excel with one click.
When you're ready to distribute your reports you can use the optional "portable report" publisher that creates compressed, encrypted, password-protected files suitable for secure, electronic report delivery. These proprietary files include pre-extracted tables, and, along with all other views, can be "pushed" to recipients via MAPI (Messaging API)-compliant e-mail systems. Authorized users can also download reports from the Monarch/ES report server.
Portable reports can be viewed and analyzed offline, but you'll need a stand-alone Monarch client (or Monarch browser plug-ins) first. In addition to portable reports, the software can also move report content to Excel, Access, Paradox, and other common file formats (not including Adobe Acrobat, however).
For organizations looking to move greenbar report output to the Web, Monarch/ES is an excellent choice. It doesn't come cheap -- the package starts at $25,000.
The version I tested, which included the report portal, HTML and Excel output modules, implementation services, and concurrent licenses for five users, costs $65,000. But it will improve the flow of information and reduce costs associated with hard-copy reporting.
Scott Steinacher is an independent technology consultant, programmer, and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT
Business Case: Monarch/ES lets mainframe-based organizations use existing ERP (enterprise resource planning) and legacy reporting systems without additional programming. It efficiently distributes report content while reducing costs associated with hard-copy reporting.
Technology Case: Monarch/ES uses Windows NT Server, Microsoft IIS, Java, and server-based relational database technology to Web-enable traditional report output.
+ True thin-client architecture lets users view and analyze reports using standard Web browsers+ Easy-to-use, user-friendly interface+ Supports very complex data analysesCons:
- Available only for Windows NT IIS Web server- Requires fat client for administration purposesCost: $25,000 and up, depending on configurationPlatform(s): Windows NT, Microsoft IISDatawatch Corp.; Lowell, Mass.; (978) 441-2200 www.datawatch.com.