Information Builders Anniversary: 40 Years of Innovation and Industry Leadership

Rado Kotorov's picture
 By | June 01, 2015
in 40th Anniversary, Advanced Analytics, business analytics history, Business Intelligence, history of business intelligence, Information Builders history, Rado Kotorov, summit 2015
June 01, 2015

It is our 40th anniversary. That is a huge success, given that according to Professor Richard Foster from Yale University, the average longevity of an S&P 500 company is 15 years. This, according to him, is down from 67 years in 1920. The short longevity can be attributed to fierce competition and disruptive innovation.

So what has enabled Information Builders to survive and stay an industry leader for 40 years? The answer is simple: relentless passion for ongoing innovations that affect a large number of people and help companies make more money.

Let me put this into a historical perspective.

Forty years ago, the world of computing was quite different and not as user friendly as we find it today. There was no graphical user interface to drag-and-drop objects. Instead, one had to learn a cumbersome language like COBOL to get information. In other words, there was no self-service – a business user had to rely on programmers to get answers from the data.

Information Builders invented a simple “English-like” language that did not require much learning, and it empowered end-users to get their own data. I would argue that this was the first self-service use case in BI. Actually, the term BI did not even exist in 1975 – the field of business query and analysis was known as decision support. The term BI was made popular in 1985.

As the demand for data analysis and reporting grew, things had to be simplified even further, so more people could access information easily. Information Builders introduced two innovations. The first was a file that stored a query procedure that could be executed on any machine. This allowed users to send the file to other users to run their own reports. The second was the introduction of parameters in the procedure stored in the file. Now users could not only run their own queries but also customize the retrieved content. I would argue that this was the first case in BI of what we today call personalization. Personalization extends the use of self-service by making it more relevant to each user. We take these things for granted today, but 40 years ago they laid the foundation for many more innovations.

Then came the World Wide Web, which allowed even more users to access information. Information Builders was the first BI company to build a fully web-based platform for BI and analytics. The browser became the main interface to access information and significantly reduced deployment and maintenance costs. For the first time, users could run reports and dashboards and create simple queries. But soon we introduced the first AJAX based tool for ad hoc query and OLAP analysis, empowering many more analysts.

It's easy to forget that the web prior to HTML5 was quite static and boring. And yet people craved interaction with the data. So Information Builders invented Active Technology – a unique, interactive HTML format that allowed users to do what they most commonly did in Excel with a simpler interface and in the browser. Many technologists were amazed that we could sort tables, draw pie charts, and even company logos in the browsers without any connection to the Internet or a server. And despite the evolution of HTML5, our Active Technology continues to evolve and provide more graphing and interactivity for BI and analytics.

Today, predictive analytics is a buzzword. And yet again, Information Builders is the leading company in this area. We were the first to integrate to statistical engine R with our BI platform so that users could seamlessly incorporate advanced analytics in their reports and dashboards. We did this with search as well, by integrating Lucene. In both cases we did it in a way that lowered the cost for our customers so that they could provision it to more people.

There are many more innovations that I would love to mention, but it will take a book to just list them. And that list shows our secret in building a sustainable business over many years. Survival in business requires passion and commitment to learn, adapt, and create new value.

Now that we have already beaten the averages, we want to continue our commitment and be the company to establish the new world record on longevity.

Happy 40th anniversary!