Bean counting

When Ricky Coronel, a project manager at Nike Inc., was charged with finding a new data warehousing tool in 1999, he didn’t take his mission lightly. Coronel needed a system that would let the US$9.5-billion Beaverton, Ore.-based shoe and sports apparel maker quickly generate a variety of financial reports requested by its divisions around the world.

He looked at products from start-ups and established vendors and ultimately settled on DecisionPoint for Financials from start-up DecisionPoint Applications, also in Beaverton. It was the only product that offered everything he needed: It’s off-the-shelf, flexible, easy to implement and comes with a high level of support. “They made me feel like I’m their most important customer,” says Coronel.

As the economy continues to weaken, data warehousing and analytical tools that help companies reduce business expenses and enhance revenue are finding a comfortable niche, says Robert Anderson, a research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

“Now more than ever, enterprises need to leverage the massive stores of operational data found within [enterprise resource planning] systems and begin exploiting it for competitive advantage,” he says. “The pendulum needs to swing from expense control alone to…increasing profits.”

Take Advantage of a Nimble Start-up

Mark Dickelman, vice-president of mobile commerce and wireless at Bank of Montreal Group of Cos. in Quebec, was looking for a tool that could analyse delivery costs and help pinpoint inefficiencies so the bank could support additional channels of electronic delivery while lowering costs across the board. He says he was impressed with the time it took to implement Austin, Tex.-based 724 Solutions Inc.’s Financial Services Platform.

“Despite the challenges of being first to market with a new technology, we were able to launch in under six months,” Dickelman says. There were any number of possible “showstoppers” along the way, he says, but the project turned out to be a success, and Dickelman says he would recommend the company to his colleagues.

“Hindsight is always 20/20,” he says, “but there are very few things that could or would be changed.”

Craft an Airtight Contract

Even customers that have been satisfied in past dealings with start-ups have concerns about signing on with a technology newcomer. In fact, Coronel had previously worked with a start-up that folded during a sales force automation project, so he questioned DecisionPoint’s long-term viability. “That was always a concern,” he says. “But we looked at the product, and it looked mature.”

To be on the safe side, Coronel says he had a contract drawn up that was “mutually beneficial, but favourable for Nike.” When working with any vendor, but start-ups in particular, Coronel suggests hiring someone who can anticipate problems with the vendor relationship and negotiate an ironclad contract. “[Hire] a good negotiator and somebody who does contracts really well…to minimize any risks,” he says.

Find the Product With an Edge

When Linda Brett, a business intelligence architect at Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, was looking for a tool to analyse the financial performance of the company’s portfolio of products, she considered both start-ups and established vendors. Mountain View, Calif.-based Alphablox Corp.’s product stood out because it wasn’t traditional, she says.

“It was architected for the Web, as opposed to some other technology that had been rearchitected but wasn’t quite what we were looking for,” says Brett. “Our users had some set ideas as to what they wanted this to look like and be. And a lot of other products weren’t customizable.”

Alphablox 3 offers real-time Web-based data analysis, so data can be analysed on the fly, with no delay in the time it takes to input and cleanse that data, says Gartner’s Anderson.

The product was also relatively quick and easy to implement, adds Brett.

Because Alphablox 3 is so intuitive, flexible and inexpensive compared with competing products, Brett says she’d recommend it to others, even in today’s economic climate. “I hope [Alphablox has] what it takes to make it through, because they have a very good product,” she says.