Hyperion looks to start BI Avalanche

At its annual user conference here this week, Hyperion Solutions Corp. launched new products and discussed its upcoming Project Avalanche that will aim to further expand its reach from pure business intelligence (BI) and reporting tools to more business strategy-focused offerings.

To get there, Hyperion has been ramping up solutions around the concept of business performance management (BPM). Instead of merely offering customers streams of metrics and spreadsheets from which they can draw their own conclusions about trends, BPM attempts to take that data to a new level by transforming it into business rules and processes for the customer. This, Hyperion says, helps support collaboration across a client’s various departments and fosters a shared approach to managing the business’s future.

In his Monday keynote speech to kick off the conference, Hyperion President and CEO Godfrey Sullivan called the lack of such higher-level capabilities in competitors’ products “the dirty little secret of business intelligence: there’s a lot of point solutions only, that aren’t tying [data] to the overall business picture.”

To that end, Hyperion announced the release of Hyperion Applications Suite 4, a set of offerings that aims to provide a unified environment for enterprise reporting, planning and analysis. Modules in the new release include Financial Management, Planning, Strategic Finance, Performance Scorecard, Business Modeling, Compliance Management Dashboard and the new Workforce Planning Module.

Version 4 gives users a common interface and the new Hyperion Smart View for Office that can be leveraged to interact with other products from the company. The feature takes advantage of Office’s new Smart Tag component that allows for better integration with other Microsoft Corp. apps, such as Word and PowerPoint. Users can also work offline in a Microsoft program and synchronize that completed work with Hyperion when reconnected.

Another driving force behind the new release is the need for compliance with regulations, such as those in the U.S. under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Enhancements around this issue have been added primarily to the Financial Management module, such as a new inter-company detail element, enhanced process controls and automation and better audit trails and document links.

According to John Kopcke, chief technology officer for Hyperion, the move towards BPM represents a fundamental shift in the way BI is regarded and handled. That shift involves an end to the perception that decisions are driven by one particular need. Over time, those single needs build up. “They are what end up building 2,000 applications within a company and results in numerous conflicts,” Kopcke told IT World Canada. “The issue isn’t just simply the number of tools you have; it’s about having a roadmap.”

A big part of Hyperion’s efforts to give users that kind of a roadmap centres around the company’s Project Avalanche initiative. To be released in two phases over roughly the next 16 months, Avalanche will tie together Hyperion applications to make working with multiple apps easier and less time-consuming.

According to Kopcke, phase one will be implemented this summer and will affect end users. They will be able to access information from different Hyperion sources with the same tool. Phase two, expected to be completed and available by the summer of 2006, will be aimed at developers.

As for the version 4 release announced this week, Kopcke said that aside from the fundamental improvements to the Hyperion products, users will also see improved visual interfaces and better usability in the form of fewer clicks to get to any given part of an application.

One customer attending the conference recently did a comprehensive upgrade to its Hyperion deployment. In fact, when peripheral manufacturer Logitech told Hyperion just how wide in scope their intended upgrade was, Hyperion reps asked, “Are you guys crazy?” according to Diana Rae, senior manger, worldwide business intelligence for Logitech.

Originally, the project was going to be a simple upgrade of Hyperion’s Essbase product, but other circumstances quickly dictated an expansion of the undertaking.

“We went through an IT reorganization just as the project was about to be launched,” said Rae, adding that Sarbanes-Oxley requirements also had an effect.

Logitech decided to upgrade all releases of its Hyperion products, redesign its physical infrastructure and move to a single sign-on environment. The timeline for completion was six months.

After the mission was accomplished, Rae realized she had some lessons to pass on to others contemplating a similar undertaking. First, read the literature provided by Hyperion before starting.

“You’ll end up with a stack like this,” laughed Rae, lifting her hand a few feet above the table. “If you have trouble sleeping at night, you’ll have lots to read.”

The effort, however, paid off.

“When they fix bugs (with the new releases), it becomes a different world. Read your documentation really well. You’ll find that things work differently than before.”

Other tips included setting up an internal discussion forum to exchange ideas (Logitech used Lotus’s QuickPlace application); make sure to perform system integration testing and user acceptance testing; and be sure to uninstall all Hyperion software before installing the new stuff because, “they don’t always play nice together,” Rae said.

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