BI moves to one-box option

Building a data warehouse is on the short list of Potential IT Projects From Hell. It isn’t hard to find a colleague with a horror story about a plan that inflated in scope, budget and deadline, or a company that spent millions of dollars on systems that could barely produce an analysis of consolidated raw material costs.

Setting up a data warehouse and its companion business-intelligence system doesn’t have to be like that, according to Marc Demarest, CEO of DecisionPoint Applications Inc. His is one of a growing list of vendors seeking to simplify access to corporate data.

The implementation principles, data types and most useful reports are the same for certain types of business functions, Demarest said, so why reinvent the wheel?

Portland, Ore.-based DecisionPoint sells a “shrink-wrapped” data warehouse for operational areas like finance, manufacturing, human resources and distribution. DecisionPoint s products cost hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of the millions for custom solutions – and can be up and running in eight weeks, guaranteed.

That’s a big promise that might smack of hubris to shell-shocked survivors of a data warehouse disaster, but Guy Creese, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc., said several factors favour DecisionPoint’s ability to deliver.

There’s enough history in the business world to set up best practices, he said. Corporations tend to use the same well-established processes, like generally-accepted accounting practices. Plus, corporations often are willing to trade individuality in their data warehouse setup for a data warehouse that’s on-line. That makes DecisionPoint’s short implementation cycle a big selling point, Creese said.

“They are increasing the speed at which companies can start analyzing their business,” he said, “and that’s becoming more and more important in today’s Internet world.” The company has also figured out the right operational areas to target – finance and distribution are major needs in any organization, Creese said.

Demarest said the vendor’s integrated, end-to-end applications cover transformation and loading, the warehouse layer, prebuilt schemas and query tools.

Gary Helms, a data warehouse and decision-support manager at Nampa, Idaho-based PC maker Micron Electronics Inc., said his DecisionPoint application extracts data from production, sales, finance and manufacturing databases for analysis of production.

The selling points for Helms were the application’s ability to work with Oracle Corp.’s applications and the option of administering the system both on-site and remotely. This means the on-call people can solve any problems from their homes. “The on-call people are able to sleep at night and we have few problems using the extraction tools,” he said.

The Next Step

In addition to Oracle software, DecisionPoint works with enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages from SAP AG and Pleasanton, California-based PeopleSoft Inc. Demarest said he wants to expand that list to include business management applications from Denver-based J.D. Edwards & Co. and Minneapolis-based Lawson Software.

He said he also wants to further automate the warehouse so that it needs even less administration, increase the number of prebuilt schemas and expand the query and reporting tools.

But his ambitious plans could find a roadblock in customers who are only slowly coming to accept the packaged data warehouse concept. It’s a natural evolution of the market, akin to ERP’s evolution from custom implementations to out-of-the-box systems, Creese said.

Demarest said he worries that his missionary selling is costing him too much time and money and will slow the company’s growth. And he’s sweating out the possibility that one of the ERP vendors, which he said have so far been unsuccessful in tackling the decision-support segment of the operational-data life cycle, might build or buy a healthy solution. That would give the ERP competitors a slam-dunk entr