Information Builders Banking On Channel Partners For SMB Push

Business intelligence software developer Information Builders is making a major push into the SMB arena with its WebFocus Express business intelligence software. And it's relying heavily on its expanding channel operations to make that happen.

Last month Information Builders made it official that WebFocus Express is available through its channel network via distributor Arrow Electronics' Enterprise Computing Solutions business. But the New York-based company has been working with its growing roster of channel partners for some time to bring the Express product to SMB customers.

"We are very happy to see [Information Builders] investing more heavily in its channel efforts in the SMB market," said Arun Gollapudi, CEO of Systech Solutions, a Glendale, Calif.-based solution provider that focuses on information management and analytics services.

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Systech has worked with Information Builders for many years, largely concentrating on providing its flagship WebFocus business intelligence software to large businesses. But now the solution provider is one of a growing number of channel partners riding the company's SMB push and new WebFocus Express to reach new opportunities.

The business analytics space has been one of the hottest segments of the IT industry in recent years. Research firm IDC predicts that global sales of big data hardware, software and services will reach $125 billion this year. MarketsandMarkets reports that sales of business intelligence and analytics software hit $17.90 billion in 2014 and will reach $26.78 billion in 2019.

The big boom in the big data arena has spawned a wave of startups offering technology to help businesses manage their growing volumes of data, analyze it and derive value from it. But the business analytics space is still dominated by such industry giants as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and SAS.

While not quite as visible as some of those humongous vendors, Information Builders is a longtime business intelligence industry player, having been founded in 1975. The company is one of the largest privately held software companies and its WebFocus business intelligence platform is an industry mainstay.

Information Builders, however, hasn't been quite as visible in the channel as other vendors -- something it aims to change.

At the very end of 2014 Information Builders hired Tom Villani as its channel chief -- officially vice president of business development and strategic alliances. Villani came from business intelligence software vendor MicroStrategy where he worked for 14 years, most of which were spent overseeing the company's channel efforts.

Villani, in an interview with CRN, said he's charged with "bringing [Information Builders] into an overall stronger position in the channel" and "engage with strategic partners to gain access to accounts in which [it] might not have a presence." Villani reports to Chief Development Officer John Senor.

Villani said a number of factors led him to Information Builders, including its culture, which he described as "can do, positive and upbeat" with an emphasis on customer service and satisfaction. He also pointed to the company's well-regarded product lineup.

WebFocus Express isn't entirely new: Information Builders developed the technology with IBM, which has been selling it for years as DB2 Web Query. While the company formally announced the WebFocus Express product just last month, Villani said a few channel partners, working through Arrow Electronics, have been reselling the software for much of this year. He said that number was up to 44 partners as of last month.

While Information Builders' WebFocus and other software products traditionally have been geared toward larger companies, WebFocus Express can be deployed for up to 100 users. The software is targeted squarely at SMB customers, those with annual sales of $300 million and below, and toward what Villani describes as "emerging and growing companies." The software is also well-suited for departments within larger companies.

Using the same code base as WebFocus, the low-cost Express edition integrates data from multiple sources and utilizes an easy-to-use report generator to provide analytical results through reports and dashboards. Information Builders is selling WebFocus Express as a software purchase, a subscription or bundled with Windows-based Dell servers.

Channel partners see significant potential opportunities for the product. "Organizations want to get the most out of their data. But only a fraction of the data available is being properly captured and utilized to provide maximum insight," said Systech's executive vice president, Bala Varadarajan. "By offering WebFocus Express, we are able to help our customers unlock value from their data and put control back into their hands by influencing decisions and tracking progress with analytics."

"By bringing Information Builders' WebFocus Express to the market, we're offering a new, highly capable platform our customers can rely upon to help them make sense of their data and transform it to take their company to the next level," said Jack Dotson, senior channel partner manager with Xtivia, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based solution provider with expertise in business intelligence, enterprise information management, data warehousing and CRM.

Villani sees Information Builders' software as a major competitive advantage: "Many of our partners tell us that our technology is bullet-proof," he said. His goal is leveraging that technology -- specifically WebFocus Express -- along with Information Builders' people and support resources to make partner relationships an IBI strategic initiative and strengthen the vendor's competitive position in the channel.

Because WebFocus Express is built on the same code base as WebFocus, SMBs can easily upgrade to the enterprise product when they outgrow Express.

The channel now accounts for about 18 percent of Information Builders' sales and Villani expects that number to grow as sales to SMBs expand, although he declines to disclose specific goals or forecasts.

"Our goal is to be fantastic with partners," Villani said. "We're getting it right."

Information Builders already works with a range of partners, including OEMs, independent software vendors, systems integrators and resellers. Villani said the company continues to recruit new partners, including reseller partners who carry WebFocus Express and other Information Builders products, and "advisory" partners who provide business intelligence consulting services and can bring the company into new markets and new customer locations.

Pandera Systems, an Orlando, Fla.-based solution provider that offers a range of services including data integration and business analytics, is one of those new recruits, having just joined the partner program this past summer.

"When we were starting the conversations, they rolled out the red carpet," Greg Arndall, managing partner for analytics, told CRN. "They've got a very rich partner program. I was blown away by how they treat their partners. We're very picky about who we partner with."

But it was Information Builders' technology that really attracted Pandera. Arndall said the vendor's comprehensive business intelligence, data integration and connector technologies offered an "end-to-end solution" that his company can use to go beyond providing simple reports and dashboards and develop sophisticated "guided experience" analytical applications for clients.

Systech, in contrast, has worked with Information Builders for more than 15 years (along with many other business intelligence vendors) and formally became a partner about five or six years ago, said CEO Gollapudi in an interview. For much of that time Systech's focus with its software was on larger companies. "Then we started seeing how it was suited to small and midsize firms," he said.

Systech was also acquainted with Villani through the solution provider's relationship with MicroStrategy. So when Villani joined the company and reached out, Systech forged a deeper relationship. Gollapudi applauds the WebFocus Express initiative, which he said is creating new opportunities for Systech in the SMB space.

Information Builders' contract with Arrow Electronics helps the company extend its market reach and Villani said he's holding talks with several other distributors about potential deals.

Villani has also been establishing strategic alliances with a select few large partners who can help expand its enterprise business. Earlier this year Information Builders partnered with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the $15 billion IT consulting and systems integration firm, through which the company is a preferred technology supplier.

The relationship will help TCS expand its data integration and real-time business analytics service offerings, said Brij Gupta, TCS practice director of global alliances, in an interview. And he said Information Builders' executives have been very easy to work with. "The leadership has been very engaging and very collaborative," he said.

Villani, meanwhile, has spent a great deal of time on the road this year meeting with partners and with people in the field. "There's nothing like meeting in person. People want to look you in the eye," he said of his travels. "You want these people to trust you and to like you. I believe my place is in front of our strategic partners."

That's also in keeping with the tenet of maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction espoused by Information Builders President and CEO Gerald Cohen, Villani said

Through September and October Information Builders has been holding events in seven cities where it brings together partners and potential customers to help generate demand for WebFocus Express. More roadshow events are planned for November.

"We are going to create the opportunities," Villani vowed of its channel efforts. "We need to take the leadership position, we need to create the message and we need to support the partners."