Actuate Rolls Out Reporting Suite Enhancements - InformationWeek

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Actuate Rolls Out Reporting Suite Enhancements

New graphical development tool and scripting capabilities extend ease of use and flexibility.

VentanaMonitor™

Summary
Actuate has released Service Pack 1 for its Actuate 8 enterprise reporting suite. Key new features include a graphical metadata development tool (Information Object Designer), VBA support in e.Spreadsheet and MatrixScript, a new spreadsheet report scripting language for e.Spreadsheet. Information Object Designer simplifies and streamlines development of Actuate 8’s metadata elements. VBA support broadens the range of spreadsheet types supported by e.Spreadsheet. MatrixScript enables e.Spreadsheet to create sophisticated, interactive spreadsheets with capabilities beyond that of typical reports. Ventana Research believes that these additions enhance Actuate 8’s differentiation and breadth. Actuate’s business challenges now relate less to offering differentiated technology and more to reaching business users with business-oriented explanations of their products’ benefits. Organizations that intend to deploy business intelligence applications to large user communities in business operations should consider Actuate.

Assessment
On August 1, 2005, at its annual user conference, Actuate disclosed a set of enhancements to its  Actuate 8 suite. Labeled Service Pack 1 (SP1), this new release includes a number of refinement features along with new scripting capabilities for its e.Spreadsheet product and a new graphical development tool for its metadata layer.

New additions to e.Spreadsheet include support for VBA macros and MatrixScript, a new report definition scripting language. VBA support enables both broader support for existing spreadsheets within the enterprise and also creation of new spreadsheets customized for tasks such as data processing, printing and data write-back. Combined with existing support for spreadsheet functionality, VBA support in e.Spreadsheet now allows organizations to define templates for a broad range of spreadsheets. 

MatrixScript is a scripting language that makes it possible for developers to define spreadsheet-based report templates within e.Spreadsheet. Functions such as data queries, calculations, formatting and interactivity can be specified in MatrixScript. Spreadsheets created with MatrixScript support drillable hierarchies and ragged hierarchies and include some pivot table and OLAP functionality. MatrixScript can include spreadsheet functions to calculate aggregate or other columns and rows. Multiple data sources can be used within one worksheet, and subtotals can be represented as formulas to enable what-if analysis and forecasting. Multiple worksheets can be created within a workbook. Exception-driven formatting can be included. Data sources can be arranged in star and snowflake data schemas. Data sources can be ODBC-compliant as well as information objects.

Ventana Research believes that effective management of spreadsheets within a large enterprise is a critical success factor for regulatory compliance and for transparent and consistent business management. Actuate’s e.Spreadsheet provides a framework for the creation, distribution and use of spreadsheets. The addition of VBA support will significantly reduce barriers to use of e.Spreadsheet within an enterprise. Also, the addition of MatrixScript allows organizations to define templates succinctly for sophisticated, interactive spreadsheets. These new additions make an already differentiated and useful BI product more valuable within an enterprise.

The other major addition to Actuate 8 announced with SP1 is a new graphical development tool for metadata, called Information Object Designer. This new graphical metadata development tool is an Eclipse-based Java application that is used with Actuate’s federated query data access layer. Actuate Information Objects are tabular data objects that provide data for Actuate reports, spreadsheets and its ad-hoc query tool. The tool allows developers to represent data sources in the metadata, to create data transformations and to define Information Objects.

Ventana Research believes that Actuate’s approach to defining metadata is well suited to the deployment of operational business intelligence. Information objects provide multiple benefits, including integration of data from multiple sources, simplified report query definition, assurance of query performance (via caching) and the organization of information sources.

Market Impact
Actuate continues to enhance its integrated suite of business intelligence software. It provides unique value to enterprise customers with its support for spreadsheets and integrated enterprise information integration capability. In addition to its robust reporting capabilities, Actuate 8 SP1 provides a solid platform for deploying operational business intelligence applications. On the other hand, it trails other leading BI vendors in functionality areas of ad-hoc analysis (Business Objects, Cognos, MicroStrategy) and scorecards (Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion). These competitors will continue to denegrate Actuate on these factors.

The key to Actuate’s long-term success will be its ability to speak to business users rather than just to IT managers and developers. Actuate’s new initiatives to deliver financial reporting and other business-oriented solutions will help. Yet Actuate likely will need to redouble its efforts to translate its technological advantages into business benefits if it is to grow in the face of ongoing and intensifying competition. 

Recommendation
Ventana Research recommends that organizations intending to deploy business intelligence applications to their operations consider Actuate products and services. Numerous existing installations of Actuate technology with large numbers of users demonstrate its technological competence with operational BI applications. Its e.Spreadsheet is the best software platform available for using and managing spreadsheets within the enterprise. Organizations seeking to deploy drag-and-drop ad-hoc analysis will find Actuate functionality adequate but not category-leading.

About Ventana Research
Ventana Research is the leading Performance Management research and advisory services firm.  By providing expert insight and detailed guidance, Ventana Research helps clients operate their companies more efficiently and effectively. These business improvements are delivered through a top-down approach that connects people, process, information and technology. What makes Ventana Research different from other analyst firms is a focus on Performance Management for finance, operations and IT. This focus, plus research as a foundation and reach into a community of over two million corporate executives through extensive media partnerships, allows Ventana Research to deliver a high-value, low-risk method for achieving optimal business performance. To learn how Ventana Research Performance Management workshops, assessments and advisory services can impact your bottom line, visit www.ventanaresearch.com.

© 2005 Ventana Research

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