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Actuate pins hopes on BI for all

Actuate Corp., a maker of business information software, is basing its business on the belief that enterprise reporting applications platforms must provide business information to users of varying skill and interest levels -- an idea that conflicts with the traditional belief that such tools are strictly for management types.

Actuate officials said most BI vendors offer what Giga Information Group analyst Keith Gile calls a 7% solution, which is aimed at the percentage of the enterprise population that is either IT professionals or power users. Ten-year-old Actuate, based in South San Francisco, began its BI platform development looking to reach 100% of enterprise users, said Vijay Ramakrishnan, director of strategic communications.

Gile's analysis is based on his research that finds 25% of the enterprise population are business users, 38% are enterprise users and 30% are ''casual'' users; Ramakrishnan said the Actuate tool is aimed at virtually all members of each of these groups. ''Casual'' is a term of art for users such as salespeople who might only want to check information on their customers and prospects, he explained. It does not necessarily mean the person is casual about the data but they are not analysts looking for industry trends.

The Actuate philosophy is that if 100% of users have access to the information they need, it will enhance corporate productivity, Ramakrishnan said. Observers note that IT cost-cutting measures could hurt any efforts to significantly broaden corporate technology use.

''The macro trend behind it is getting 100% of your users in the habit and making it a natural process for them to work with information on a day-to-day basis,'' he said. ''That's the trend we're seeing out there in our customer base. And the reason it's important is that by getting more people involved with the information, it opens up a lot of possibilities for improving corporate performance.''

But, he argued, the need for information has been stymied by BI software that wasn't easy for the casual users to learn, thus leaving them out of the equation.

''The bottlenecks to getting more people involved and using this information is that traditionally most technologies have been pretty disruptive in the sense that you have to learn a new tool, querying language or a new interface,'' Ramakrishnan said.'

Actuate's latest platform is designed to allow IT departments to build custom applications that provide information to employees in the format they are most comfortable with, he said. That would include putting data into interactive spreadsheets and making specific information available in reports accessed via a Web browser.

With Web access, specific information can also be provided to business partners and customers through Actuate-based applications, Ramakrishnan said.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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