Hyperion gets to grips with data

At its Solutions 2001 conference, Hyperion spelled out the future of business intelligence software.Hyperion's annual gathering...

At its Solutions 2001 conference, Hyperion spelled out the future of business intelligence software.Hyperion's annual gathering of its users at Disney World, Florida, last month, showed signs that the company is finally taking stock of its position as a leading business analysis software developer, writes Eric Doyle

At Solutions 2001 the firm tried to convince customers that its products are increasing in scope and power to present meaningful corporate metrics to every desktop.

Hyperion is gambling on the belief that users are being encouraged to store raw data - but few packages that collect the figures actually collate and cross-reference them into meaningful, useful information.

The arrival of e-commerce is allowing companies to gather information on their interactions with customers, suppliers and partners to a greater degree than ever before but the problem is how to make sense of these metrics.

Companies such as SAP and Siebel may provide the keys to unlock the data but lack the analysis tools to turn this into business intelligence.

Wayne Eckerson, director of education and research for the Datawarehousing Institute, believes that this is the dawn of a new era which will bring a real understanding of business processes.

The institute is a Seattle-based organisation providing education and training in the data warehousing and business intelligence industry, multinational companies and the government sector.

Eckerson said, "I am eager to help evangelise the role that business intelligence plays in key new markets, such as e-commerce, customer relationship management [CRM], value chain integration, personalisation, and B2B marketplaces, among other things.

"Business intelligence professionals are going to play an important part in helping firms to achieve their strategic visions for the future."

Hyperion is well placed to take advantage of the growing emphasis on business intelligence but its first task is to get its house in order.

Jeff Rodek, Hyperion's chairman and CEO, said, "We have to simplify our message and accelerate the growth of new applications.

"Until now we have been marketing all of our products as a lot of individual solutions. This has caused some conflict between the company message and the marketing of these products and we will be addressing this over the coming months."

The problem for Hyperion is that the merger of its analytical tools with Arbor's
flagship Essbase online analytical processing (Olap) server, has not gone well.

Arbour bought Hyperion in May 1998 but the product lines and sales teams have remained separate. Integration is Rodek's challenge. He feels this will be easier because most key personnel were recruited after the merger, breaking down the dual culture into a single corporate allegiance.

"It is important for us to carve out our own space in the business intelligence market. To do this, we will leverage the channel of over 400 partners to educate and develop awareness among our customers. This clearer direction will strengthen the culture," he said.

Among users of Olap technology, Hyperion is easily the leader of a fragmented market, with more than 40 competing suppliers. The main threat is Microsoft which has Olap elements embedded in SQL Server 2000 and Excel 2000 - soon to be upgraded to Excel 2002.

Nigel Pendse, author of The Olap Report, said, "The Olap market currently has no dominant players, and we do not expect any single vendor to dominate it within the next two years.

"Neither Hyperion Solutions nor Cognos, the two largest market share holders in 2000, can be regarded as dominant, and several of the top 10 had a falling market share in 1999 and 2000. The largest potential player [Microsoft] did not enter the market until the end of 1998, and its effects are already being felt. But it will not have the leading revenue market share until at least 2002."

Hyperion hopes to delay Microsoft's rise but it does not really see the company as a threat. John Kopcke, Hyperion's chief technology officer, said, "Microsoft supports Olap but we have by far the more sophisticated business intelligence strategy.

"We are grateful for Microsoft's entry into the Olap market because it does popularise a technology when they get involved. Our challenge is to keep our technology ahead of the field."

Kopcke's team is responding by moving the product line from its general-ledger analysis tools into the Web-based world of CRM and enterprise resource planning.

For true business intelligence implementation, the software has also to be able to access data wherever it is stored: in dedicated financial management databases or more general relational databases. This move has already started with the initial switch to a Java-based product and a browser-based Analysis Portal front end.

The current focus of attention is on producing an Olap database capable of pulling together disparate information from other data sources. To do this effectively, Kopcke pointed out, means that the database has to "know" about where the data is held and be able to track changes, not only in the data itself but also in any movement of the data's storage location across a company's servers.

Kopcke refers to this database as a "business intelligence repository" which is still in development by Hyperion. The repository will be accessed and analysed within Essbase and results presented to users through the Web-based portal.

The repository will therefore be a crucial element primarily in the planning and management of a company's financial resources, but may well expand into more general resource management.

This makes the storage platform much more mission-critical, and financial modelling using the powerful "what if" capabilities of Olap, will develop into a more complex model of the business and its inter-relational elements.

To ensure that this vital resource is robust and always accessible, Hyperion is also developing fail-over and load balancing capabilities to allow the workload to be spread across several servers.

The building of such a resource will be strongly reliant on standards which have been lacking in the financials world. Hyperion has been actively participating in the development of the required standards, such as the Object Management Group's Common Warehouse Metamodel for metadata modelling and interchange using XML in the data warehousing and business analysis domains, and the JOlap Interface effort to develop a pure Java API for Olap servers.

The company has joined with Microsoft to develop XML for Analysis which will appear this month and allow Olap servers to interact and exchange data.

Hyperion's product strategy

  • Developing Integration Server, as a data repository to provide access to customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and financial data drawn from relational databases
  • Extending the reach of Business Intelligence reports through Web browser access
  • Access to data held on other Olap servers through support for XML initiatives such as XML for Analysis and OMG's Common Warehouse Metamodel
  • Introduction of the Java Olap (Jolap) Interface to allow J2EE developers access to Essbase servers
  • Provision of failover and load balancing support to secure and accelerate server queries.

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