Business Intelligence Software Product of the Year 2001

By Eva Marer

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This year's Business Intelligence Software Product of the Year contest was a sack race between apples and oranges, with the top three finishers representing very different products with diverse functionalities. Yet the results provide a snapshot, however fleeting, of what IT managers consider important now: integrating data across the enterprise, managing cost and maximizing value for the end-user.

"Companies are accumulating a lot of data every day from various departments across the enterprise and many of them are not sure what to do with it," says IDC analyst Dan Vesset in Framingham, Mass.

The need for answers to this business dilemma is fueling growth in the business intelligence tools market, which Vesset expects to swell to $9 billion in 2005, a 28% surge over 2000. End-user query and reporting and online analytical processing (OLAP) will drive much of that growth, he believes, capturing a combined 79% of the business intelligence tools market by 2005.

The top two finishers -- Microsoft Corp.'s Data Analyzer and Business Objects' Application Foundation, with 24% and 19% of the votes respectively -- represent generic tools that can be used to query and analyze customer and sales data. By contrast, third-place winner Cognos Finance 5.1, with 12% of the votes, is a more specialized application for financial analytics and budgeting.

In part, the timing of the contest accounts for these results. It's no wonder that, with budgets on the brain in December, IT managers voted Cognos' relatively obscure finance product into the top three. And, like a film released in December and therefore top-of-mind at Oscar time, the novelty of Microsoft's Data Analyzer -- launched just last November -- may in part account for its first-place finish.

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The full list of winners

Ultimately, however, Data Analyzer pulled into first place because it does something IT execs love: makes end-users happy at a price that brings a smile to the face of senior management.

The stand-alone Office product brings basic intelligence to the masses, allowing anyone in the company with Windows on their desktop to access data and analyze it by creating charts, graphs and reports that can be saved directly to Excel and Powerpoint. And, at a retail cost of about $179 per user per year, the price is unbeatable. Data Analyzer may not be the most sophisticated solution out there, but it sure makes the IT department look good.

Consider the case of Toronto-based Novopharm Limited, a company that provides generic drugs and products to Canadian pharmacies. Founded in 1965, the company employs about 900 people and was recently acquired by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. of Jerusalem, Israel.

Novopharm was spending way too much time querying backend systems to understand customers and products, says Doug Morley, manager, sales administration. Sales reps were constantly calling the busy information systems team to source the latest statistics and data-and could never be sure if the information was complete and up-to-date.

"If I told a manager to report on all the factors affecting his business by key customers and products, it would have taken him days to complete a number of data runs and specialized reports " and then hopefully come up with the right answer, Morley says. "We had to find a way to pull up accurate data at the front end and put it into a usable, easily accessible and intuitive format."

Working with a local business intelligence and CRM solutions provider, Novopharm settled on a Microsoft solution: after all, they already had Windows, Excel and Powerpoint on every machine. They used an SQL server for compiling data and worked with their vendor to create data cubes that reflected their business processes. The data cubes-and Microsoft Data Analyzer-were then loaded onto every client, putting pertinent information directly into the hands of users-fast. Just two people were able to bring the solution live in two months.

According to Morley, Novopharm has been able to increase its market share, approach customers in a more educated fashion and develop new selling strategies-all of which contribute to the bottom line.

For high-level users, Data Analyzer may not be robust enough to handle sophisticated queries -- something Microsoft readily admits.

"Data Analyzer is not the be-all and end-all of BI," says Francois Ajenstat, technical product manager for Microsoft Office. "It's aimed at the mid-range non-technical user, the casual data analyzer who spends at most an hour a week crunching numbers."

The company has scored a hit by targeting a broader range of decision-makers within organizations already plugged into Microsoft. The interface is integrated with the Microsoft SQL server database and makes use of its OLAP server, although it also works with Sybase, DB2 and Oracle. The system requires a 300 MHz Pentium III processor and 128 Megabytes of memory.

Voters had a choice of the following nominees:
Brio Enterprise 6.5
Brio Software Inc.

Business Objects Application Foundation
Business Objects

Cognos Finance 5.1
Cognos Inc.

e.Reporting Suite 5
Actuate Corp.

Microsoft Data Analyzer
Microsoft Corp.

Microstrategy 7.1
Microstrategy Inc.

Teradata Database V2R4.1
Teradata, a division of NCR Corp.

WebFOCUS 4.3.6 Business Intelligence Suite
Information Builders

Larger companies, such as PDI, Inc., a pharmaceutical marketer with over 3,500 reps in the field, may need more customized solutions that go beyond the capabilities of Microsoft's server and Data Analyzer.

"We need business intelligence not just for sales and incentive compensation data, but also for data warehousing, operations and marketing analytics," says John Hollier, PDI's vice president of technology in Upper Saddle River, N.J. Hollier is implementing the company's knowledge management strategy in phases, starting by rolling out a Siebel sales automation platform this year.

Whether a company is large or small, however, the goal is the same: make the data work to boost your bottom line. Going forward, IDC's Vesset predicts even greater sophistication in end-user delivery and analytics: products that support business intelligence via PDA, phone and other mobile devices.

Ultimately, it's not the technology that will hold companies back, he says, but a willingness to break down barriers between business units, share information across the enterprise and push valuable news-you-can-use out to decisionmakers fast.

Eva Marer is a freelance business and technology reporter based in New York. She covers investments, personal finance and corporate technology issues for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. Contact her at egresspress@aol.com.