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Actuate gets busy

Buys performancesoft, releases BIRT 2.0

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Comment Actuate has been busy lately: BIRT 2.0, which is the reporting technology developed by Actuate for the Eclipse community will shortly be generally available, and the company has just announced that it has acquired performancesoft. Both of these developments are significant.

performancesoft (spelled with a small ‘p’) is/was arguably the leading provider of dashboard and scorecard applications, with some 500 implementations world-wide. Perhaps even more surprisingly it managed to do this while not having any business intelligence capability per se: it just marketed dashboards and scorecards.

It was able to do this because its environment is extremely flexible and very easy to customise: if you want to change your metrics or your hierarchies that’s really not a problem, where it is with a great many other such tools. The product also has features like support for bubble-up exceptions, which are not commonly supported by other tools. The reason for this is that all this dashboard stuff sits on top of an OLAP engine. This allows you to drill down to a problem area and then slice and dice against that activity. So, for example, you could look at any issues you have by geographic region, or by company division, or by any other dimension that you care to mention.

Now, when you think about it, this is not what other vendors do. They may be business intelligence vendors but slicing and dicing is within the BI product as opposed to the dashboard and the two often do not integrate seamlessly (often because one or other product was acquired from elsewhere and they do not really represent a single solution set).

Of course, there was a downside to performancesoft: if you needed to drill down beyond aggregated data to transactional information then you had to leave the performancesoft environment and you ended up using Cognos or Business Objects anyway. However, Actuate completes this picture so that a single vendor (Actuate) will now be able to offer this full set of capabilities. Indeed, there is also the potential to leverage Actuate’s spreadsheet functionality so that (once integration is complete) you will be able to leverage performancesoft directly in conjunction with spreadsheets.

So there is certainly a technology synergy. The company’s respective customer bases are also complementary: Actuate has traditionally been strong in financial services while performancesoft has had most success in government, utilities and so on; so there should be significant cross-selling opportunities.

So, all good news, as is the announcement of BIRT 2.0, which provides a considerably richer environment than the previous version. This has attracted considerable interest amongst other vendors, most notably IBM (and Actuate BIRT received the “Ready for IBM Rational Software” validation back last June), which raises an interesting point referring back to last year's article about IBM acquiring a BI vendor.

At that time I wrote that “… the next logical question is who they might buy? One of the smaller vendors is theoretically possible but this would not make the sort of impact on the market that IBM would be likely to want to make – though Actuate is a possibility because of its work with Eclipse …” – well, Actuate is not such a small company now, its work with Eclipse has been considerably extended and its acquisition would make more of an impact.

As a result, I am inclined to change my view of last November when I suggested that MicroStrategy was the likeliest bid target and opt for Actuate instead, as Actuate would be a double win for IBM: enriching both the BI platform and Eclipse.

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