It's easy to see a life preserver in the latest technology for making sense of data. But established technologies have been used for years on real business problems, and WebFocus offers a solution for integrating multiple legacy data formats into current systems.
When Philadelphia-based Cigna Group Insurance Co., needed help in deploying an interactive Web-based reporting system, the company turned to Information Builders Inc. (IBI) of New York City, which is known for its fourth-generation language (4GL) products. Cigna's solution of choice was Report Caster,
a component of WebFocus, which brings IBI's Focus 4GL to the Internet.
Cigna's corporate clients needed faster reporting of illness and disabling injury claims called in by their employees, for which 10- to 100-page reports for up to 500 clients were processed on a weekly basis. Data had to be manually sorted in different ways for each client, which further complicated and slowed the process.
Now that process is done by Report Caster. Six gigabytes of databases are replicated nightly from Cigna's IBM 3090 mainframes to Microsoft Windows NT servers. Report Caster then assembles those reports, extracts pertinent data for each client, and sends it automatically via e-mail to the appropriate HR managers. The software also forwards that data to downstream systems for claims tracking and processing.
"Managers at a large supermarket chain with 80 stores receive the same information we send to the central HR department, [which] saves HR time because they don't have to notify each location," says Marc Andonian, Cigna's assistant vice president for integrated care. Authorized persons can then access Cigna's system over the Internet for immediate updates on claim status, without the need for client-side software, adds Andonian.
Cigna had been using the Focus 4GL for years in a mainframe environment and was looking for a way to better access its data as its information systems moved to Windows NT and the Web. "With WebFocus, my staff has direct control over the data rather than having to work through all the IT systems and processes and test compatibility issues, because the infrastructure was there," says Andonian. "I've never had the... integration issues with IBI that I've had with other [business intelligence] tools."
Further, Cigna's developers, many of whom are familiar with WebFocus, don't have to learn a new reporting language to get data out of legacy systems and onto the Web and other new platforms.
"IBI has compelling technology because it has built its [business intelligence] infrastructure from legacy systems outward to the Web and all systems in the middle with a single technology," says Keith Gile, senior industry analyst for Giga Information Group in Norwalk, Conn.
Jim Ivers, IBI's director of BI strategies, explains that WebFocus is divided into three engines: the Integration Engine, which allows users to access data on any platform in the enterprise; the Reporting Server Engine, for applying business rules and generating complex reports; and the Output Engine, which lets users create reports in Excel, PDF or HTML format.
The Output Engine can also extract smaller slices of user-specific information out of larger reports and deliver it in a form useful to those who need the data. Users can also set criteria to transfer data to the desktop or to mobile devices such as laptops, handheld wireless devices, cell phones and pagers.