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BI's integration parade rolls on

Hyperion becomes the latest to proclaim "one platform" with its System 9 release, but it's not alone.

More is not always better. In the case of business intelligence (BI) applications, the emerging consensus is that fewer is better.

That's the case with Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm in McLean, Va., which provides business process advice to the government and large businesses. Three years ago the company began creating a global data warehouse.

"We spend a lot of time making sure the data in there is accurate and the interfaces are working," said Kevin Cook, director of firm-wide financial reporting systems. "We've really been able to cut back down to two major BI tools now."

Currently, Booz Allen Hamilton has senior management running applications from Hyperion Solutions Corp. and is using ReportNet from Ottawa-based Cognos Inc. for ad hoc querying. Those two vendors, along with Business Objects SA in France and Cary, N.C.-based SAS Institute, are all striving to become the lone platform for BI applications.

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It's a difficult sell for BI vendors. According to a recent survey from Seattle-based Data Warehousing Institute, large organizations average 3.2 BI tools from different vendors and 13 BI tools altogether. While consolidating to one application platform is an attractive prospect for many businesses, it is a difficult undertaking. The BI vendors are not only facing the challenge of resistance to consolidate within their customer base, but competition from broader application vendors like Oracle Corp. and Microsoft, which are moving into their market.

With its Hyperion System 9 release, unveiled this week, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company hopes to offer one BI and business performance management suite.

"Many vendors provide a set of point tools and all that ties them together is the marketing message," said Srikant Gokulnatha, director of product marketing and strategy.

Hyperion has managed to tie together its management, financial and production reporting together with analytics, dashboard creation and reporting against relational and multidimensional data sources, according to Gokulnatha. It has done so through a unified workspace that can be personalized based on user roles, supporting the activities of business users. It also provides a seamless connection with Microsoft Office, Gokulnatha said. For example, data from the BI system can be refreshed in a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation.

"The generation of spreadsheets is one of the dirty secrets of business intelligence," he added. "Excel is an interface. PowerPoint and Word are interfaces."

The tight Office integration and user workspace were big pluses for Booz Allen Hamilton.

"As a consulting firm, we use a lot of PowerPoint. Being able to update without having to integrate with the BI system is a huge advantage," Cook said. "This is greatly going to simplify our users' lives. The app that we're creating is a dashboard for our commercial business. Right now, people are manually putting that together, creating reports. I'm going to save these users weeks of effort. Those are the financial analysts. I'd just as soon leverage their analytical skills as the more mundane work they've been doing."

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