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Enterprise Reporting Makes A Comeback

Published by: InformationWeek
Written by: Rick Whiting

Companies turn data into reports for use by the larger knowledge workforce

One of the oldest applications of computing is getting a new lease on life. Enterprise reporting, once associated with reports that data-center workers printed out onto greenbar paper and handed over to a select few, is gaining popularity as a business tool for the broader workforce.

Companies want to transform the massive amounts of data collected from customer-relationship-management, enterprise-resource-planning, and other systems into meaningful reports that different types of workers can use to better do their jobs. "There's a lot more valuable information out there than there was in previous years," says Tony LoFrumento, executive director of CRM at Morgan Stanley's individual investor group. The company uses software from Business Objects SA to develop client-investment reports that its 14,500 financial advisers and branch-office managers access via the Web.

Unlike ad hoc query reports developed by business analysts and other computer-savvy users, enterprise reports are developed by IT for broader audiences. Reports generally take the form of spreadsheets, PDF files, or even just rows and columns of data disseminated through the Web or by E-mail. Forrester Research predicts that use of business-intelligence software among all employees will grow from less than 10% today to up to 40% by 2006.

In some instances, this basic application of business intelligence is gaining favor over more-sophisticated analytical tools such as online analytical processing and data mining. "Increasingly, customers are starting [business-intelligence] projects where they don't want advanced analysis," says Sanju Bansal, chief operating officer for MicroStrategy Inc. "They want simple reporting delivered to thousands of people and, over time, will add more analytics and interactivity to those reports."

MicroStrategy, which has specialized in OLAP and ad hoc query software, this week will debut MicroStrategy Report Services, its first enterprise-reporting product.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's release of its "Yukon" SQL Server database, due out by the end of next year, will include the ability to generate enterprise reports. But Microsoft says the demand for reporting is so great that it's adding rudimentary reporting to an interim release of SQL Server 2000, due by January.

Publishing company Simon & Schuster, a customer of Business Objects' more-sophisticated tools, is looking forward to the vendor's impending acquisition of enterprise-reporting-software company Crystal Decisions Inc. "One area we've always needed help [from] Business Objects is with large-scale enterprise reporting," says Paul Zanis, business information systems director at Simon & Schuster. "We've been lacking an easy way to get reports out to everyone." The publishing company plans to move dozens of legacy reports, such as title stocks and customer returns, off the mainframe and onto Crystal Decisions' reporting software. Those reports are distributed to managers, editors, and other employees.

Vendors are also making easier-to-use tools. Noodles & Co., a chain of 75 restaurants, is installing Cognos Inc.'s ReportNet to replace proprietary reports on data such as sales and customer traffic. Those reports will go out to each restaurant manager daily and weekly. Says Erik Duffield, the restaurant chain's finance manager, "We needed a more intuitive, user-friendly tool."

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