New BI Tools Scour Data

New BI offerings address enterprise needs to glean more useful information from business data.

Enterprises faced with multiple business intelligence challenges—from integrating data with desktop applications to moving data to data warehouses to updating analysis activities to be more forward-looking—have a selection of new tools from MicroStrategy Inc., Business Objects S.A. and Genalytics Inc.

The diversity of these applications is indicative of the multiple-front battle that enterprises are waging to glean more useful information from business data.

The MicroStrategy Office software, announced last week, uses Web services to add live data from MicroStrategys Intelligence Server to Microsoft Corp.s Excel spreadsheets, Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. At the same time, Business Objects released Version 6.5 of its Data Integrator ETL (extraction, transformation and loading) tool, while Genalytics released Version 5 of its namesake predictive analytics tool set.

MicroStrategy, of Vienna, Va., has supported embedding analytic data created in Intelligence Server into Microsoft Office applications in the past. However, in MicroStrategy Office, the company is offering more of a "pervasive" connection between Intelligence Server and the Office applications, said Sanju Bansal, MicroStrategys chief operating officer.

With the new tool, available now, data can be set up to feed into Office applications automatically, to a predefined place, with the same formatting and with the ability to store defined values. In this way, the system in effect remembers what data the user wants to refresh, Bansal said.

The ability to place analytic data into Office applications is not unique to MicroStrategy. As part of its SAS 9 release late last month, SAS Institute Inc., of Cary, N.C., introduced Add-In for Microsoft Office, its technology for embedding SAS analytics into Microsoft Office applications.

Meanwhile, Business Objects Data Integrator 6.5 boasts new capabilities for embedded data quality, grid computing support, interactive debugging and support for impact analysis in the ETL design environment.

Automotive-parts manufacturer Sonnax Industries Inc. is using Version 6.1 of Data Integrator now, which it licensed with the rest of the Business Objects suite about a year ago, said Jeff Loewer, vice president of planning and IT.

Loewer said an unexpected benefit in Data Integrator 6.5 is its integration with Crystal Reports reporting software. Sonnax, though relatively new to Business Objects, has used Crystal Reports for 10 years to generate reports from its enterprise software systems. Business Objects acquired Crystal Decisions Inc., which developed Crystal Reports, last year.

"We hadnt anticipated that they would extend Crystal Reports to the ETL tool," said Loewer, in Bellows Falls, Vt. "Well be able to take data from Crystal Reports and extend it to the data mart. It looks very promising for us. Over the last 10 years, weve built up a lot of knowledge stored in a large base of reports that we can phase in over time to the data mart and do trending."

Loewer said other new features in Data Integrator 6.5, particularly metadata management, should improve developer productivity.

Business Objects, of San Jose, Calif., acquired Data Integrator from its developer, Acta Inc., in 2002. Business Objects has more than 300 Data Integrator customers, company officials said.

Loewer said Business Objects acquisition of Acta and then Crystal Decisions last year has led Sonnax to standardize its BI tools on Business Objects technology.

"For a smaller company like ourselves [180 employees and less than $50 million in revenue], to be able to deal with one vendor for an end-to-end solution has a lot of advantages," Loewer said.

For enterprises looking for BI tools that do forward-looking predictive analytics, Genalytics last week rolled out Genalytics 5.0. The software uses genetic algorithms, rather than regression-based techniques, to build predictive models used in marketing, financial risk management and collections, said company officials in Newburyport, Mass.

New features in Version 5.0 include an enhanced data extraction engine that is designed to be easy enough for analysts to use without IT intervention.

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