Publisher's Insight: Enterprise Analytic Portal
By Graeme Philipson
Published in DM Review in June 2001
Enterprise Analytic Planning for the Future
By Graeme Philipson
Most major corporations have spent the last ten years or so building, rebuilding, replacing and upgrading their technological infrastructure. Imagine any of the Fortune 500 still struggling without some sort of analytic application helping them slice and dice their way through the mounds of data the modern enterprise creates on a regular basis. How about the yearly budgeting process? Surely, with all those billions of dollars spent on technology, something as intrinsically important as the budgeting process should, at this late date, be streamlined, manageable and buttressed with analytics.
Most enterprises have not yet arrived at the efficiencies that technology upgrades promised in the past. The overriding problem in the modern enterprise certainly is not the generation of data. It's no problem for any large company to produce literally tons of reports, year- over-year comparisons and projections to support decision-making processes. All the data any senior executive or line-level knowledge worker needs already exists somewhere in the organization all key employees need is a way to access and process that data in a sane and orderly fashion.
Unfortunately, most companies are still trying to determine how to connect all their disparate sources of data and how to analyze, synchronize and disperse that data in a meaningful manner once it has all been connected. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, OutlookSoft has stepped up to the table and brought an analytics-enhanced corporate portal to the market that just may be the answer the modern enterprise is seeking. The company, founded and led by ex- Hyperion veteran Craig Schiff, Outlook-Soft president and CEO, introduced its Enterprise Analytic Portal (EAP) this year. It blends powerful Web-based applications and the ease of a specially designed version of Web Excel to bring real-time analysis capabilities to the desktop of every knowledge worker in the connected enterprise.
OutlookSoft's EAP provides the expected features of a corporate portal, including access to multiple internal and external data stores and personalized desktop access. However, this application harnesses the power of a Web-based design to provide unique added benefits such as user- driven enterprise analytic reporting and collaborative, bidirectional data collection. EAP hallmarks include immediate access to critical information on individual desktops which promotes an improved flow of data throughout the corporation and an enhanced decision- making process.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of EAP is that it is currently one of the best available examples of the integration of Web and OLAP (online analytical processing) functionality. By combining integrated budgeting and planning functionality with the power of OLAP to form an integrated and robust multidimensional decision support database, all delivered via the Internet in a familiar Excel- based user interface, OutlookSoft's EAP has advanced to lead the pack of current corporate portals.
Focusing on Specific Business Challenges
While EAP can help improve the enterprise in all aspects of analytic focus, let's focus on the problem of budgeting in the modern enterprise and how EAP can help corporations achieve a truly collaborative and intelligent approach to an age-old administrative headache.
EAP users such as BenefitPort, a sales and marketing solutions provider for the employee benefits industry, are already seeing an improvement in their budget management process. "We are seeing a significant return on our OutlookSoft investment due to increased efficiencies and improved management efficiencies," explains Keith Hopper, BenefitPort director of financial planning.
"For example, we have eliminated many rounds of data entry, which has streamlined our budgeting process. We also have improved revenue tracking, which helps management recognize growth opportunities and make strategically sound decisions as market conditions change."
Hopper and BenefitPort are using the OutlookSoft Financial Planning and Analysis module (FPA). This module is the first data type application module built upon the EAP foundation. OutlookSoft's Schiff describes EAP as "a robust portal to collect, access, analyze and distribute meaningful business information over the Web and the foundation on which to build a suite of analytic applications that handle critical data types throughout the enterprise."
Data Type Application Modules
OutlookSoft FPA provides in-depth financial planning and performance management reporting. The company has additional data type specific application modules currently under development all of which will provide in- depth collaborative planning, analysis, real-time performance monitoring and bidirectional, user-driven reporting. Modules in development include customer planning and analysis, followed by supply chain management and human resource planning and analysis. Each specific module will be built to capitalize on OutlookSoft EAP's extended portal capabilities.
At its most basic level, the EAP platform provides a robust framework for collaborative planning, with access to multiple internal and external data sources. With its easy to implement and use browser-based technology, EAP permits the delivery of vital business information at the proper level of security to employees throughout the enterprise without the need to install software on individual desktops. To help insure the implementation of a collaborative workflow, the information on an individual desktop can be customized to the users' specific needs and roles in the overall process.
In the budgeting process, this means that line managers can combine their unit-level knowledge with the enterprise-level data currently residing in the company data warehouse or divisional data mart. With EAP's bidirectional data flow, all managers worldwide can send and collect data to support the construction of enterprise-wide budgets. With the added functionality of the FPA module, managers can perform desktop analysis on an OLAP database to support their decision-making process.
Midwest Wireless, a wireless communications service provider, chose EAP and the FPA module to deliver just those benefits to the company's geographically scattered budgeting process. "We wanted our budgeting and planning system to serve as a dynamic tool that would help manage the company's rapid growth and expansion," explains Dennis Findley, Midwest Wireless vice president of finance.
"With that in mind, we looked for a solution that would allow us to plan our growth by subscriber, budget the associated costs and staffing requirements, and manage profitability at the individual store level. For us, it is not a matter of trying to run reports out of our financial systems like we had done in the past. It's a matter of our managers being able to access the data directly from their desktops."
Most modern enterprises have already spent a great deal of time and effort chasing the sometimes-elusive benefits of technology. Across all industries, execs hobnob over coffee at conventions while trading war stories of yearlong implementations and horror stories of long, expensive, in- depth training seminars. EAP delivers all the benefits of an analytically enhanced corporate portal without any the implementation downsides that have become the stuff of corporate legend.
Because it's 100 percent Web-based, EAP requires no physical deployment and minimal IT involvement, allowing rapid solution implementation and minimal system administration. In most cases, EAP can be installed within 60 days at a fraction of the cost of most current corporate portals. The training required is among the easiest in the industry. If an end user can run an Internet browser and understands Microsoft Excel, that end user is ready to use EAP. Any additional training needed can be handled quickly, easily and cost-efficiently through Outlook-Soft's Web-based training seminars.
Extending the idea of cost efficiency further, OutlookSoft also prefers to keep the total cost of ownership of EAP at levels that most enterprises can be comfortable with. While most solution providers charge exorbitant licensing fees, the OutlookSoft pricing model offers its EAP as a subscription service, similar to software leasing and the subscription fee covers all maintenance and upgrade costs.
Graeme Philipson is an independent consultant and analyst specializing in the IT industry. Over a 25-year career, he has become one of Asia-Pacific's best known and most respected IT market researchers and speakers. In recent years, he has concentrated on electronic commerce and enterprise applications issues. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
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