Using Business Intelligence Can Serve to Fight Back on the Economy

Business Intelligence
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More than just a replacement for Query/400, DB2 Web Query is business intelligence light.


In one of the sessions on DB2 Web Query at the OCEAN User Group's Technical Conference this week, the speaker, Doug Mack, asked for a show of hands of those users who had installed the product and those who had actually started to use it. I looked around to see the results: installed DB2 Web Query--quite a few hands; used it--not so many.


Of course, that was why people were in the session: to learn how to start using the product that their companies had invested in. If you've become accustomed to using Query/400 for the past umpteen years, moving to a browser-based product with a lot of features and new screens takes some training.


It made me think, however, that one of the characteristics of the System i that probably has held it back from expanding further in the marketplace these past few years has been the standard tools users were asked to use for query and reporting. They might have used Query/400 for extracting data from the System i, but I doubt they did much else with it except figure out the best way to get it off the machine and into another database and do the analysis with more-modern tools. This is a shame, really, because IBM has invested heavily in the DB2 database itself during this period, adding the SQL Query Engine (SQE) and a number of other features--from On Demand Performance Center to Index Advisor to Materialized Query Tables. But Query/400's green-screen interfaces and kludgey text-based input and output formats don't do justice to the many upgrades to the database and operating system that have been made during the past decade. Instead, they are a stark reminder of the machine's legacy roots,


The shortcomings in Query/400 have created a small industry among vendors such as Help/Systems and New Generation Software, both of which saw the opportunity and developed some nice business intelligence tools that use native DB2 data without burdening users with a half-dozen integration consultants and six-figure licensing fees. We're not sure what these ISV tools use under the covers, but it is clear that Query/400 uses DB2's older Classic Query Engine (CQE), not the newer (and faster) SQL Query Engine (SQE) that DB2 Web Query is able to employ. IBM has done little or nothing to enhance CQE but much to beef up SQE, a database engine it redesigned to run far more efficiently than CQE. So if you are surprised when your reports spit out much faster on the same machine now that you have DB2 Web Query installed, one of the main reasons is that it is using the enhanced SQE that remains unavailable to Query/400.


Of course, this is one of the things that IBM emphasizes when it argues that you should spend money to upgrade, but time is, after all, money. If you don't mind wasting time waiting for reports to s-l-o-w-l-y eke out whenever they darn well feel like it, then don't worry about it. The old way is good enough, and I still do plenty of things the old way and defend them 'til I look like a complete fool, so join the club.


Query/400 also lacks features that people need today for conducting business. At least two sessions at the OCEAN technical conference dealt with the improvements that DB2 Web Query can bring over its predecessor to an organization. One session was a panel discussion led by Roxanne Reynolds-Lair, chief information officer at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), in which she discussed the experience of FIDM's installing a new Smart i appliance offered by Key Information Systems, Systech Solutions, Talend, and IBM, consisting of a business intelligence solution based on a Power 520 Express running DB 2 Web Query on IBM i using Talend's extract, transform, and load (ETL) middleware. The second session was headed by Doug Mack, IBM Power Systems product marketing manager for DB2 Web Query, who discussed dos and don'ts for better performance when running the new software product. One panel looked at the business need and benefits of upgrading, while the other looked at the technical underpinnings of the query and reporting tool and the reasons it's light years ahead of the product it replaces.


The installation at FIDM, while a lot of work for the four vendors involved and a calculated risk for the school, has resulted in long-term benefits to users at large. By using DB2 Web Query as the foundation for a business intelligence solution rather than just a query and reporting tool to replace Query/400, it validated to FIDM and the vendors who carried the flag to prove it could be done (including IBM itself) that DB2 Web Query is more than just a query and reporting tool; it's business intelligence light. Add an ETL component, and you have a business intelligence solution that can, with adequate staff training, do analytics far beyond anything considered commonly possible on the System i. Reynolds-Lair, whose school is faced with student enrollment challenges from fallout over the economy, is gearing up to respond to department head requests for detailed information on students, funding, and enrollment variables she couldn't have tackled using the school's old system.


Many companies today are sitting on underutilized second computers now assigned to high availability data replication. These firms could easily use the excess capacity for basic business intelligence reporting as a way to fight back against a very challenging foe: the economy. Knowledge is power, and business intelligence is one of the best ways to glean extensive knowledge from your existing data.