Savvy executives today know the key to success is providing better data faster to internal departments, business partners and customers. By working with more up-to-date information, companies can make better decisions, leading to higher profits and stability.
This year's crop of business intelligence and data warehousing tools has taken those requirements to heart, bolstering reporting capabilities and adding more application protocol interfaces to integrate with a variety of e-commerce applications.
Microsoft SQL Server 2000 was the hands-down winner of the Datamation Product of the Year for 2000 in the Data Warehousing & Business Intelligence category, garnering 44 percent, or 118 votes. Taking second place was Release 2.0 of SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW) with nearly 15 percent, or 39 votes. SAP BW, a more traditional data warehousing product, has much more flexibility, performance, and scalability than the previous version, analysts say.
"Business intelligence is really attacking the idea of customer relationship management and understanding Web usage," notes David Folger, vice president of Web and collaborative strategies at META Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn., consultancy.
|Voters had a choice of the following nominees:|
Users praised SQL Server 2000 for its increased scalability, responsiveness, and security. Mark Prieto, CIO of election.com Inc., a Garden City, N.Y., Internet-based election services provider, switched to SQL Server 2000 from SQL Server 7 last year to provide greater scalability, security and administrative functionality. The product's improved scalability came in handy in early November, when the company ran the YouthEVote 2000, which offered the country's 55 million schoolchildren the ability to vote online for a presidential candidate. (George W. Bush won with 56 percent of the vote.)
"In many cases, it's not a big problem if your server is down for a minute, but if you're doing a live vote with a 12-hour window, you can't afford to be down because you lose credibility," Prieto says. "The ability of the system to partition the workload across servers on demand helped us handle the load."
Prieto also applauds the product's security features. Since SQL Server 2000 is integrated with Microsoft Active Directory, the company is better able to manage all of its resources more simply, from intrusion detection devices and firewalls to database servers and Web servers.
For transportation industry IT developer Sabre Inc., SAP BW Release 2.0 marks a significant improvement over version 1.2b, an early beta version the company had been using to develop a complex Integrated Forecasting System for American Airlines.
While the previous version only allowed users to store data in one part of the system, the new version has three layers-the InfoCube for summary data, the Operational Data Store (ODS) layer for transaction-level detail, and the Persistence Staging Area (PSA) layer for back-end processing. Reworking the product to include all three layers was a huge breakthrough and allows Sabre to more easily build American Airlines' system.
| *Analytics includes ASPs|
**Related Software includes ETL, modeling data
quality, and DBMS software
***Services excludes in-house staff
Source: Meta Group, 2000
"American Airlines has two million records per month in [its] general ledger alone, so that's a lot of transactional data to put in a cube," notes Kay Black, project manager for American Airlines at the company's Fort Worth, Texas, headquarters.
Black adds Version 2.0 makes the application's data available via the Web, which makes it more usable by people around the world, and has increased reporting capabilities.
Brio Technology Inc.'s Brio Portal 7.0 came in a distant third with seven percent of the vote, while other products in the category, including Actuate Corp.'s e.Reporting Suite 5, Sagent Technology Inc.'s Sagent Portal, Accrue Software Inc.'s Insight 5 and Metagenix Inc.'s MetaRecon 2.4, received nominal votes.
But MetaRecon 2.4, which received the fewest votes of all nominated products, may be the most overlooked and undervalued product in the category, says Doug Laney, a vice president in META Group's Application Delivery Strategies Service. The product has broken new ground in the area of data profiling by being able to combine various data sources and determine where the weak points are, and then creating a consolidated schema and mapping logic to generate the data warehouse, he says.
Ed Stiver, CIO of BioSignia Inc., a medical technology company in Research Triangle Park, N.C., is one of MetaRecon's fans. The company, which processes health information on chronic diseases, uses MetaRecon to analyze the information it retrieves from various legacy systems. "It helps us get a snapshot of what these databases look like and what issues are involved with various data stores," he explains.
While Folger predicts some consolidation in the business intelligence market, especially among smaller tools, he says the need for personalized and customized information delivery will continue to skyrocket. Sales of business intelligence tools will reach $2.4 billion in 2001, up from $1.8 billion in 2000, he notes.
In the data warehousing area, Laney says new versions of products released in 2001 are likely to include better metadata interchange with other tools, courtesy of a recently ratified metadata standard, the Common Warehouse Metadata Model. Laney also predicts that better built-in intelligence, like that already present in MetaRecon, will become more commonplace.
Karen D. Schwartz is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. Based in the Washington, D.C. area, she can be reached at email@example.com.
Links to all Product of the Year 2000 articles:The Internet on Overdrive