Information Builders, Inc. (IBI), the New York City-based business intelligence (BI) provider, has named a new CEO. Frank J. Vella, who had come aboard in November of 2017 as Chief Operations Officer, will succeed founder Gerald Cohen in the CEO spot. Cohen, who is 83, will stay on as IBI’s Chairman and senior advisor.
IBI, a privately held firm, was founded by Cohen in 1975. Cohen, who is a native New Yorker and alumnus of Stuyvesant High School, started the company in the mainframe era, and brought it to prominence with FOCUS, a fourth-generation language (4GL) and platform for database reporting, which was for many years a juggernaut technology, especially on Wall Street. With the advent of the Web and the dawning of BI, FOCUS shifted to become WebFOCUS and commanded a strong market presence with numerous blue chip Enterprise accounts, building on the franchise established in the FOCUS 4GL era.
Change in the wind
IBI has worked to keep up with technology changes and new competition, even as it has maintained a family-run atmosphere and — despite a global presence — an unabashedly New York City culture. In May of 2017, Goldman Sachs’ Private Capital Investing group became a minority investor in IBI and, approximately six months later, Vella was brought in as COO to modernize IBI’s methodologies and products.
Ostensibly, Vella was being groomed for the CEO role, but needed time to acclimate, assimilate and for his reforms to take root. Vella himself is a technology veteran, having served in executive positions at Microsoft, Quest Software, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Blue Jeans Network.
That new software smell
Last September, during the Strata Data conference, which took place a few blocks west of IBI HQ, the company announced its revamped platform.
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In November, folks from IBI, including Vella, hosted me at their offices and took me through the new WebFOCUS platform. The interface is modern, in a way that’s competitive with many self-service BI products, but the platform is proudly Enterprise-oriented, employing a portal paradigm, and sporting both data quality and master data management (MDM) capabilities, in addition to core BI/analytics.
The new platform also allows developers to build so-called InfoApps which, in turn, are based on WebFOCUS — and these often serve as the “land” part of IBI’s land-and-expand approach to new accounts. In addition, IBI integrates both R and Python into the platform, and functions written in those languages can effectively extend the core development functionality.
There’s more work to be done, but IBI’s platform is nicely blending modern features with the DNA of being a multi-decade Enterprise player. What I saw was not lipstick on a pig; it was a thoughtful reboot, appropriately faithful to the original.
On a personal note, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I served with Cohen on the Board of a New York City software trade association called NYSIA. I can attest to Gerry’s dedication to his company, the software industry, to New York City and the intersection between them. IBI is his baby and passing the reins cannot be easy, at all. But the change of CEO guard, the transition and the reorganization happening at IBI seem to me to be genuine and rigorous. And the developments are very positive for customers who have needed to know where the company was going next.