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Sun 20 Nov 2005 04:00 AM

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Iberian Intelligence

BI heavy-hitter Hyperion was busy promoting its new software release in Barcelona last month. Eliot Beer went to hear delegates’ opinions on Hyperion and business intelligence in general.

|~|alistair-anderson_m.jpg|~|Anderson: Companies are expanding fast and consolidating, so there's a lot of scope to rationalise their processes.|~|The mood of last month’s Hyperion Solutions 2005 conference in Barcelona was pretty confident — the sun was shining, the weather was mild, and among the city’s mass of modernist architecture 1,200 customers of the business intelligence (BI) firm gathered to swap tips and tricks, catch up on news and gossip, and listen to Hyperion talk about its latest product — System 9 — which the Hyperion staff were certainly not shy to talk about.

"There's a lot of potential for BI in the Middle East. Companies are expanding fast and consolidating, so there's a lot of scope to rationalise their processes," says Alistair Anderson, regional director, Middle East indirect markets at Hyperion.

Hyperion’s high spirits aside, BI is becoming big business, with SAP, Oracle and Microsoft, among others, moving into the arena and working to promote their own solutions, and Hyperion, Cognos and Business Objects (BO) seeking to leverage their BI offerings further. Research firm Gartner has just published its magic quadrant for customer performance management (CPM) suites, incidentally placing Hyperion first and Cognos close behind at the top of the quadrant. CPM is a more specialised area of BI, and involves leveraging company intelligence and data to greater effect.

The report states, “CPM is an evolutionary merging of BI and ERP, driven by the need for businesses to enable better financial and business performance visibility. Gartner’s market sizing, based on end-of-year numbers for 2003, indicated that CPM was a US$520 million market and is forecast to grow to more than US$900 million by 2009.”

Middle East users seem to be part of this growth as well, judging by companies such as Etisalat, which sent delegates to the Barcelona conference. The UAE telecoms firm has used BI software since 1995, according to Hassan Shehadeh, senior systems analyst at Etisalat. He says his company saw the value of BI from looking at other users, and utilises the software to leverage its successes and improve the quality of its reporting.

“This is a very useful conference for us, to be able to talk to other BI users and to look at the new products,” says Shehadeh. “I think it is one of the most useful conferences for BI users, thanks to the seminars and the Expo, but it would be helpful if it were an extra day longer. As to Hyperion, its System 9 package looks good, and we will be looking into it further.”

Hyperion had clearly pushed the boat out at the conference to promote its new software suite; slick, even witty videos were shown on a cinema-sized screen set into a stylish set, while a parade of Hyperion executives took the stage to tell the audience why System 9 would solve their problems. This was to be expected, but then the hosts gave up the stage in favour of Gartner vice president for research, Frank Buytendijk, and representatives from customers, including British Telecom (BT) and hotel and leisure group Global Hyatt — a welcome shift of focus.

While this was an opening calculated to whet the appetites of delegates, the meat of the conference for many was in the breakout sessions; seminars covering most aspects of Hyperion’s offerings. Many of these were packed beyond capacity, with delegates anxious not just to hear the product pitch, but also to put tough questions to the speakers about how these products would work in the real world. Some of the most popular sessions, especially with IT representatives at the conference, were on master data management (MDM).

Hyperion’s MDM solution, which can be separate to the System 9 package, offers IT departments the power to allow other business areas to make changes to the structure of business hierarchies, such as cost centres, regions and departments, without having to contact IT staff to process their requests. At the same time, IT managers have absolute control over who can make changes, and what changes they make, thus preventing unwitting corruption of master data.

One South Korean delegate, clearly interested in the solution on offer, but also clearly worried about how her complex data sources would cope with a new package, was particularly insistent with her questions.

“It sounds like it would be ideal, but some of my sources are so inflexible I need to know the Hyperion software would be able to deal with them,” she says. “I’ll be speaking to the staff in more depth about this, because it would solve a lot of problems for me — I just need to know Hyperion can deliver on its promises.”

At the networking hub of the conference — the Solutions Expo — the focus was clearly on how BI software could benefit businesses, rather than just the technology. Companies ranging from Deloitte to Unisys, IBM to Business and Decision, were demonstrating how their offerings leveraged Hyperion’s software. Meanwhile, at Hyperion’s stand, interactive demonstrations of System 9 were running, along with staff to explain features, and elaborate on some of the distinctions between BI and Hyperion’s take on CPM: business performance management (BPM).

“BI has been around for a while, and mainly deals with displaying metrics on dashboards,” says Tom Zsolt, director of solutions marketing for Hyperion. “BPM has in the past been involved in financial applications — what we’re trying to do is bring BPM to the business as a whole, and introduce features such as detailed forecasting, business modelling, and profitability analysis into the equation.”

Profitability analysis is one of the more interesting directions Hyperion is moving in. This analysis works on the contention that, for many companies, 20% of their customers produce the bulk of the profit — the conclusion being the remaining 80% don’t contribute as much. Analysis of who these customers are can only be done successfully by marshalling and mining data in a sophisticated way using software such as Hyperion’s, at least according to Zsolt.

With this and other similar matters under discussion, there was a clear appetite among the delegates for practical solutions. Hyperion certainly seems to be a strong contender but Cognos and BO have also recently come out with new versions of their packages, and other big enterprise solutions players are hungry to make up ground. Ultimately, the main winner should be enterprises, as all these vendors work to deliver the best package.||**||

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