SAN MATEO (04/10/2000) - One of the more enjoyable outcomes of the growing trend toward outsourced software services is the chance to observe traditional software companies reinventing mainstay business processes, making them more accessible and far less expensive. This is precisely what BI (business intelligence) software maker InterNetivity Inc. has achieved in its recent launch of databeacon.com.
InterNetivity's databeacon.com is a service-based version of the company's full-featured Web-based OLAP (online analytical processing) product, called databeacon. Businesses that use the Internet to deliver data to customers can also use databeacon.com to provide customers with a way of performing valuable analytical functions on that data. Companies can enable this aggregated data-analysis capability from any data-driven Web page, with no coding, no training, and, best of all, no cost.
A potentially valuable service, databeacon.com could have an impact on a number of business applications, including bill presentation, financial disclosure, supply and distribution chains, and marketplace data dissemination. In many ways, the usefulness of the service is limited only by the nature and quality of the source data.
No training required
There are a number of BI tools today that also provide Web-based analytical functions, such as the BI/Suite from Hummingbird Communications (see our Enterprise Computing Review on BI/Suite 6.0, March 20). But to utilize these tools companies must incur the cost of acquisition, deployment, and maintenance. Deploying databeacon.com takes just minutes; you fill out an online registration form and insert a few lines of HTML into the pages where data analysis is required.
Customers will not require any special software in order to run the service and will not see any changes to their existing Web-based applications other than a link to click on to begin performing their analyses. The link, an HTML form, contains the necessary parameters for connecting to the service, such as the locations of the server and data and any specific formatting information. When your customer clicks on the link, a request is sent to a CGI program that accepts the parameters, grabs the data from the data source, and dynamically transforms it into a multidimensional cube. The results are delivered to the client via a signed Java applet viewer.
In my testing I decided to try out the service with a couple of different data formats. The first document contained tabular data whereas the other consisted only of a link that referred to a flat file, and databeacon.com executed data analysis of both documents without any trouble. From the viewer, I was able to graph, sort, and even pivot my dimensions against the data. Because the data was bundled with my viewer, I was able to perform as many analyses as I wished -- without requiring another download.
I found databeacon.com to support a wide array of intuitive graphical formats, such as vertical and horizontal histograms, bar charts, pie charts, line graphs, and tables, from which I could view and work with the data. It also gives users the ability to create and print point-in-time reports of the graphical results by exporting them to Adobe Acrobat. Finally, data can be exported to office productivity tools such as Microsoft Excel.
The engine that fuels the databeacon.com service is InterNetivity's own flagship product, databeacon (formerly know as dbProbe). However, through testing I found that not all of the features of databeacon are enabled in the new service. Chief among the missing features is the capability of providing SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connections. If the data you're presenting is sensitive or highly confidential, you'd be wise to pass on the service and not risk compromising customers' data.
I also found that the inability to design cubes is a real bane. The tool does a great job of building cubes that it infers from the data, but users who require more granularity will likely be disappointed. Another problem is the lack of support for XML. This can make things far more complex for organizations that are using XML tags in their data sources.
InterNetivity's databeacon.com is a nifty service that can add a lot of value to the business-to-business data presentation you're currently doing via the Internet or intranet. But don't confuse it with a full-fledged enterprise business-intelligence solution. Viewed in that light, the product is a speedy performer, is virtually effortless to deploy, and won't cost you a cent. But because it lacks SSL or XML support and some basic OLAP functionality, we gave it a score of Good. Overall, this is an excellent groundbreaker in the service-based business-intelligence market.
Tim Fielden is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE BOTTOM LINE: GOOD
Business Case: Databeacon.com provides valuable data-analysis capabilities to your online customers, which not only improves their opinion of the service you provide but also can potentially reduce help desk calls.
Technology Case: Databeacon.com provides all the tools and infrastructure required for OLAP-type data analysis. However, it lacks SSL support, so it is not appropriate for sensitive or highly confidential data.
+ Requires no special software to install or run+ Requires no administrator training+ Fast performanceCons:
- Lacks SSL support
- Lacks XML support
Quality of Support: Free e-mail and telephone supportPlatform(s): Requires only a JDK 1.1-capable browserInterNetivity Inc., Ottawa; (613) 729-4480; www.databeacon.com.