Robert Kugel's Analyst Perspectives

Actuate’s Xenos Enterprise Server Dishes Out Mounds of Content

Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:51:51 AM

For the past couple of decades Xenos' distinctive competence has been the transformation of print streams into content used to assemble documents. Its focus these days is in addressing the needs of organizations that have to handle high volume transactional output (HVTO) and all forms of enterprise content. The company, which was acquired by Actuate earlier this year, recently released their Enterprise Server Version 2.0.

One of the more common applications of HVTO these days is the assembly and creation of documents from data and format definition into PDF format so that, for example, a customer of a bank, credit card or telecom company can go online, request a statement and view/download their statement or bill. The trick here, of course, is that millisecond response times are required to a society that has grown to expect (and demand) instant anything. By assembling these sorts of documents on demand, rather than creating them in advance for every customer (only some of whom will request one online), these companies save an enormous amount of storage space. In the past, once the document was requested and rendered into PDF format it would be stored in that fashion. However, over time saving documents this way has occupied an enormous amount of storage so the Enterprise Server can now store a rendering of the document as delivered by referencing repetitive elements (such as a logo, an announcement or a consumer message) that may be incorporated in the bill or statement. Although the cost of storage continues to plummet, content volumes in these sorts of organizations is growing at a faster pace as companies increasingly view their bills/statements as a marketing tool to build trust and loyalty, or to sell additional services. Other applications of the technology include a mortgage lender than can rapidly assemble a legally-binding offer document that does not require storage and saves 90% of the archive storage compared to saving the fully-rendered document.

Another interesting application of the basic technology is in handling many-to-many data communications, eliminating the need to re-key data and without having the need to have a formal electronic data interchange (EDI) system acting as an (expensive) intermediary. In shipping, specific ships' manifests are created by different systems with different metadata and structures, yet they all have the same essential data elements. The ports into which they sail need to digest the contents of these manifests for customs, security and other purposes. Each port operator has their own systems and data structures. In the past, the shipping line might, say, fax the manifest to the port and the data would need to be re-keyed into the port's own system. Xenos has addressed this issue by creating what is, in essence, a Rosetta stone that extracts and parses the data from the various manifests and translates these into a data stream comprehensible to different port operators. It reduces processing time from hours to a fraction of that, saving both the shippers and the port time and money, and eliminates re-keying errors. In theory, XBRL or some other data tagging technology would be a simpler approach, one requiring a relatively straightforward taxonomy. However, this would require near universal adoption of the technology by shippers and ports and (not sadly for Xenos) I think this is unlikely to happen soon.

In addition, many large organizations have a great deal of semi-structured and unstructured data sitting in near off-line and off-line repositories. The issue here is that companies often are supporting multiple disparate systems that house both useful and obsolete data that is difficult to access and occupies more storage space than is necessary. Certain industries, such as nuclear power, have long retention requirements but others are much shorter requirements. Companies that might be exposed to electronic discovery in some lawsuit become vulnerable if they are not aware of what is in these repositories. They multiply their vulnerability and litigation defense costs if they have not eliminated unnecessary documents and data. Companies can use Xenos Document Transformation (an element of the Server) to extract, groom, transform and save the information in a compact, accessible archive.

I think there are many potential applications of the Xenos Enterprise Server to any document and data intensive organization. The company's penetration has mainly been in financial services but with the rise in demand for e-government services and the need to reduce administrative costs in government, there will be a growing need to securely generate documents from the hodge-podge of systems used by governments at the federal, state and large municipal levels. For Xenos, there probably is a pony in there somewhere.

Actuate acquired Xenos because the technology is a good fit for its BIRT open source reporting system for Web applications. In high volume applications, companies can quickly render documents created by BIRT into useful content for users. This technology builds upon Actuate recent new release that my colleague has written about called ActuateOne that starts integration with Xenos as part of its technology platform and advances their unique position as information platform for data and content across an enterprise.

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Robert Kugel - SVP Research

Topics: Business Intelligence, Information Management, Content Management, Information Management (IM)

Robert Kugel

Written by Robert Kugel

Rob heads up the CFO and business research focusing on the intersection of information technology with the finance organization and business. The financial performance management (FPM) research agenda includes the application of IT to financial process optimization and collaborative systems; control systems and analytics; and advanced budgeting and planning. Prior to joining Ventana Research he was an equity research analyst at several firms including First Albany Corporation, Morgan Stanley, and Drexel Burnham, and a consultant with McKinsey and Company. Rob was an Institutional Investor All-American Team member and on the Wall Street Journal All-Star list. Rob has experience in aerospace and defense, banking, manufacturing and retail and consumer services. Rob earned his BA in Economics/Finance at Hampshire College, an MBA in Finance/Accounting at Columbia University, and is a CFA charter holder.