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At this year’s Information Builders Summit, the company’s annual conference for users and analysts (Twitter: #Summit2011) in Dallas, the long-time supplier of business intelligence and information management software showed how it has been able to sustain double-digit revenue growth thanks to highly accessible and scalable software that operates on a variety of platforms and data sources. Its recent expansion into information management, master data management and integration helps organizations link data to business analytics quickly – something our benchmark research has found to be essential. It also is continuing to advance BI on mobile devices.

Smartphones and tablets have changed businesses’ expectations about where they can access information from business intelligence tools. Information Builders is not new to delivering BI to mobile technologies, and its WebFOCUS platform and tools have been evolving to meet a new generation of needs. Now it is expanding its current platform and tools to extend the value of a customer’s investment. It takes an “assemble once and deploy anywhere” approach; that is, users can design and lay out dashboards and reports in its BI environment and access that information using mobile technology.

In March, Information Builders announced expanded use of WebFOCUS Active Technology reports to publish and access BI information from smartphones and tablets. Active Technology provides a secure method to access analytics and reports live against a server or in an offline environment, and  a common information container that operates on multiple platforms to provide native functionality. Information Builders is the only company so far to market this approach of having a native application as a container; other suppliers build native applications for mobile platforms. 

At the conference, the company announced availability of the Mobile Faves application for the Apple iPad and iPhone. As part of the WebFOCUS toGo series, Mobile Faves lets users access BI information remotely. 

I spent a couple of hours working with the software and also got to see a demonstration of its operation on Android-based devices, planned for future release. Mobile Faves supports an array of dashboards and reporting, and can dynamically build or adjust charts based on selections made through the user interface. It offers an impressive breadth of flexibility and interactivity throughout the application. However, it could use some improvement in taking advantage of built-in feature of the iOS platform; it does not use some of the flip motions to next pages, single touch and size motions are not as smooth as they could be, and the interactive controls are not as graphically refined as those in other applications. But Information Builders makes up for some of the usability deficiencies with useful functionality that includes save and email buttons, which are important for anyone reviewing information and taking actions based on it. Simple navigation from charts to details and into reports gives Mobile Faves an application feel.

As Information Builders brings mobility to its BI products it will need to expand the scope of information it provides. It will have to back up its charts and reports with descriptive information and support content that can be read, not just analyzed. In our recent benchmark on information applications 51 percent of participants said broader access to information on mobile technologies is important or very important. All mobile BI providers with iOS products, including not only Information Builders but also companies such as Actuate, MicroStrategy, QlikView, Roambi and SAP, need not only to differentiate their products in usability and functionality but also support the simplicity that makes Apple the market leader in mobile technologies. Any vendor that moves quickly but fails to provide equivalents of Apple’s strengths risks not gaining new customers. 

If you are looking at leveraging your existing Information Builders investment and cost-effectively providing BI to your business users, you should evaluate Mobile Faves. Its Apple and upcoming Android support are a key differentiator for organizations that support a broad spectrum of devices, as many organizations do, according to our benchmark research on BI. Information Builders must improve usability in future releases of the product, but the company is definitely a player to consider in mobile BI.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

The Pitney Bowes Business Insight (PBBI) analyst summit and conference this week provided an opportunity to hear about the $5 billion technology provider’s strategy to become “the leader in customer communications.” This term makes sense when applied to a division of the company that brought the efficiency of the postal meter to mailrooms around the world. Of course a lot has changed for the company and for business since then. Today parent company Pitney Bowes envisions success in a future with limited or no print and mail business.

The trend away from postal mail and toward Internet-connected devices is clear. Pitney Bowes CEO Murray Martin explained how the company plans to capitalize on the new market dynamics. It has made strategic investments in software companies MapInfo, Group1 and recently Portrait Software. It has aligned its corporate focus with that of its Business Insights business unit – a difficult process that now seems to be bearing fruit. At the summit Martin outlined how Pitney Bowes can position its software, services and hardware to help customers with profiling, preparation, multichannel output, customer response management and analytics.

Pitney Bowes has used its technology to improve customer communications, which has led directly to $8 million in revenue to date, Martin said, with $66 million more projected in the next four years. Earlier this year the company unveiled Volly, an Internet-based digital delivery service designed to help businesses convert from physical direct mail to marketing messages that target smartphones and tablets. Volly helps eliminate the inefficiency of bulk print and mail, which is also anti-green and a poor corporate sustainability approach to customer communications. In addition, Pitney Bowes released pbSmartPostage to provide cloud-based postage and labeling to any PC with an Internet connection.

PBBI President John O’Hara outlined how the company’s software, information and services portfolio facilitates lifetime customer relationships. I would say that the outcomes of such is where business investment is made is in improving the customer experience which our benchmark research has found is a critical business priority. The company provides information and services to help organizations cleanse and enrich their customer information. This part of the business, built on the Spectrum Technology Platform, helps customers with information management and location intelligence. With the upcoming version 7, the product will provide better usability and support a range of address validation and other data cleansing, and enrich customer information with international geocoding for more than 90 countries. It will support a broader range of technology programming interfaces, including connections to applications like Oracle Siebel and SAP, and will offer localized versions of the application in French and Japanese.

At the core of PBBI’s customer communications portfolio is its customer analytics suite. As our customer analytics benchmark research found, improving the process and the analytic prowess of organizations is critical. PBBI advanced in this area through its acquisition of Portrait Software. My colleague Richard Snow assessed the value of predictive analytics in PBBI’s product line. Its suite of seven customer analytics applications helps organizations focus on acquisition, onboarding, growing, retaining and regaining customers. Unlike customer analytics tools that focus on historical analytics, the Portrait suite is built on a predictive analytics technology that can help users understand future outcomes. My colleague David Menninger has written about the importance of predictive analytics and why it is critical to look at both past performance and planned actions. Now PBBI can leverage its assets that use location intelligence and provide data integration and quality to expand its reach. Large organizations such as US Bank, Merrill Lynch, T-Mobile and Lloyds TSB already use PBBI’s customer analytics capabilities, giving PBBI a foundation to expand upon.

The PBBI portfolio also emphasizes location intelligence, which is a $200 million business led by new SVP and GM James Buckley. Location intelligence software, which we have researched extensively, supports a range of services that can be integrated into applications on smartphones and tablets. While the company’s MapInfo Professional brand continues to maintain a healthy base of customers, management sees the future of the product line as being part of the company’s larger focus on helping companies in customer communications.

I was surprised to hear fewer details than I heard at last year’s conference about integration of Location Intelligence with the rest of the company’s portfolio. This potential integration is clearly a large opportunity, but PBBI must more directly communicate why location is required for operating and analyzing customer communications, and how its software does it faster and better than applications without location intelligence.

SVP and GM Jay Bourland, who manages the technology that supports customer communications, spoke about the challenges in multichannel customer communications. Our benchmark research into contact center technology found customer communications to be changing dramatically, now handling up to more than a dozen types of communication. PBBI’s EngageOne Communication Suite supports this communication via batch, interactive, on-demand and shared services, with a WYSIWYG interface that provides capabilities from design to delivery of communications. is the company now is more clear about its part in the strategy than in previous years.

PB also sees the importance of providing consulting services to CMOs across industries. Four years ago the company acquired Digital Cement to help bring a relationship management team into the business. Optimizing customer relationships requires not just a good strategy but a good plan and good technology. With its deep direct-marketing expertise, PBBI can leverage other parts of the software portfolio to deliver results for marketing executives. The company boasts an impressive range of clients in this area, including Dell, Ford, J&J, Kraft and Samsung.

The day ended with Group Technology Officer Tim Shaw’s look at the future of customer communications. PB aims to help customers determine when and how they communicate with a business. Shaw says organizations must move beyond the transactional and promotional approach to understand why, when and where communications should engage with a customer. At that point, an organization can focus on differentiating its communications through an emotional approach where the point and passion of the interaction are blended. PB is investing in technology across this customer life cycle.

PBBI’s focus on the customer is a smart one, and unique in the industry. It leverages the company’s current business as it transitions into the future. Being a multibillion-dollar company with operations around the globe helps PB learn how customer communications should operate. With the ability to analyze and facilitate communications and interactions, PB can help organizations get smarter in many areas, including multichannel contact centers that operate across lines of business. My colleague Richard Snow has pointed out that businesses need to get smarter in contact centers by using smarter technology including multichannel customer interactions. PB must strategically engage business leaders from marketing and customer organizations to determine how to improve communications and analytics. Reaching out to customers and further investing into a partnering strategy that lets its technology interface with other applications should help further PB’s strategic importance in the business technology market.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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