Business intelligence vendors offer data analysis packages

Enterprises are increasingly interested in acquiring software solutions that, regardless of what they’re called, will help them measure their business practices against their strategic objectives.

Cognos Inc., Comshare Inc. and SAS Institute Inc. have all introduced their own versions of software to pull business intelligence (BI) data from various departments, in an effort to evaluate business performance in real-time. All three companies have different names for the same information set. Comshare calls it corporate performance management (CPM), SAS refers to it as strategic performance management (SPM), while Cognos has coined the term “scorecarding” technology.

Warren Shiau, a Toronto-based research analyst with IDC Canada Ltd., said companies are starting to use this functionality more and more, a trend software developers have recognized.

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Comshare is offering Management Planning and Control (MPC) 5.0, an integrated solution that helps enterprises with various business processes such as strategic planning, budgeting, forecasting, financial consolidation reporting and analysis requirements. The software developer has had the vision for integrated information for more than three years, according to Rod Radojevic, a senior manager of product marketing with Comshare.

“We’re also seeing increased demand in our customer base itself with the sale of additional modules to complete that suite of applications and functionality of business process,” Radojevic said.

Sales of Comshare’s solution have reached over 400 units, with about 160 customers signing on in the last year, Radojevic said.

Cary, N.C.-based SAS recently released Enterprise Guide 2.0 that combines data warehousing, business intelligence and analytic intelligence into one platform.

Gary Love, a Toronto-based program manager of organizational intelligence for SAS, said up to about six years ago companies were using individual SAS tools to capture performance metrics, prompting the company to create a single solution.

Love said SAS has also seen an increase in interest as the methodology has matured in the eyes of enterprises. SAS’ customer base in the financial, health care, energy and government fields have all taken an interest in the product, he added.

Ottawa-based Cognos introduced Metrics Manager, a scorecard solution in early October, which the company describes as “not static” and a helper to organizations looking to find “one place or single version of the truth,” said Meg Dussault, vice-president of product marketing for Cognos.

The software allows data to be incrementally loaded, and it can pick out data in the same way. A central pool pulls in data as soon as it is changed.

“The scorecard will give you what’s happening, and the analyzing layer tells you why,” Dussault said, adding this type of product can become invaluable to HR departments or managers trying to gauge campaign or employee effectiveness.

Atlantic Lottery Corporation Inc. chose the Metrics Manager to help it communicate its performance objectives to management throughout the company, according to Connie Desroche-Gallagher, a Moncton, N.B.-based IT project manager for Atlantic Lottery.

Atlantic Lottery oversees all lottery ticket and gaming operations, except casinos in the four Atlantic provinces.

Prior to purchasing Metrics Manager, Atlantic Lottery was already using Cognos’ Impromptu, a managed reporting solution and PowerPlay, an online analytical processing software, so it was drawn to the software because it could be integrated into its existing architecture, Desroche-Gallagher said.

Using Metrics Manager, the company can provide its financial performance objectives to managers with decision-making abilities across the company.

“For example, in the area of financial objectives, you are going to have your actual sales together with your target sales, so people can track them and take corrective action if they see something is going off the rails,” Desroche-Gallagher said.

As beta-testers, officials at Atlantic Lottery described the software’s initial performance as “not glowing,” Desroche-Gallagher said.

“Some of the functionality, either it isn’t intuitive, so we are having a bit of difficulty getting it implemented, or there are still some bugs,” she said.

Shiau believes companies are turning to this type of software because they need to improve operational efficiencies in order to squeeze out more bottom-line profit.

“This type of software allows you to do that because when it’s combined with an integrated set of enterprise applications, and business intelligence, and analytics you have better visibility into where the profit is generated, where the costs are coming. In that way, this type of software enables users to better achieve operational efficiency,” he said.

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