It’s Gestalt: Hyperion Unveils System 9

Hyperion trumpets its new System 9 suite as the unprecedented combination of its financial performance management capabilities and core business intelligence assets.

The attack of the next-gen business intelligence (BI) and business performance management (BPM) suites continues apace, with a new version 9 release from Hyperion Solutions Corp. expected this week.

Hyperion trumpets System 9 as the unprecedented combination of its financial performance management capabilities and its core BI assets. In Hyperion’s book, this makes for a highly synergetic pairing. There’s undoubtedly a lot to be said for this claim—Hyperion can credibly boast about having best-in-class OLAP, reporting, and BPM technologies—but there’s also something a little vexing, too. That’s because Hyperion has nary an unsolicited word to say about the long-time lynchpin of its BI and BPM strategies—the Essbase OLAP engine. Does this mean Essbase, Hyperion’s most recognizable brand, is going away?

Far from it, says CTO John Kopcke, who insists that Essbase is alive and well, if somewhat incognito. "You won’t see [Essbase] from a marketing perspective. You’re going to see us make the [proverbial] hay ... that when you look at the analytic capabilities of our competition ... they don’t have anything that can compare [with Hyperion] from the perspective of what we have to offer with Essbase," he says. "If you don’t really have world-class analytics capability, you really aren’t going to be able to get to a BPM solution."

Speaking of proverbs, there’s a lot to be said for making hay while the sun shines. So why doesn’t Hyperion’s System 9 marketing strategy play to its OLAP strengths, at least while the Essbase brand still has a patina of shine to it?

For the simple reason that OLAP by itself doesn’t sell, says Kopcke. "Marketing it directly is something that we’ll stay away from. The reason for that is that even today, very few companies go out and say, ‘I want to go out and buy OLAP. I want to go out and buy analytic functionality,’" he indicates. "They might say, ‘I’ve got a particular problem I want to solve, and OLAP is the best way to do that,’ but you really need to market to the solution, and not necessarily the technology."

He cites the example of customer profitability, which is a fast-growing performance management metric. "[Customer profitability is] very difficult to do without an engine like Essbase to do it, so you’ll see us marketing around customer profitability. [Other vendors] will have a similar strategy, but as a key competitive advantage, we have Essbase and they don’t."

System 9—It’s Gestalt

Notwithstanding its Essbase-lite marketing collateral, System 9 has much going for it. After all, its pitch is that of a true hybrid—i.e., equal parts BI and BPM—at a time when performance management is coming on strong.

Separately, Hyperion appears to have all of the necessary ingredients for BI and BPM synergy. Its analytic technology is powered by Essbase; its reporting capabilities are anchored by the former Brio and Sqribe technology assets; and its financial performance management and planning capabilities are highly respected, too. But does System 9 deliver on the promise of complete—and synergetic—BI and BPM integration? Or (as is frequently the case) does the whole amount to less than the sum of its parts?

Kopcke argues in favor of synergy. System 9 is a completely integrated release, he says, that’s based on service-oriented underpinnings, with financial, operational, and analytical reports available in a single console, and with multiple BI tools integrated into the new System 9 BPM Workspace. To the extent that Hyperion’s BI and BPM capabilities are accessible to users working in either discipline, it’s gestalt, Kopcke says.

Of course, you wouldn’t expect Hyperion’s CTO to paint a less than flattering portrait of System 9’s capabilities. But Kopcke’s account is seconded by an altogether more objective source—Dan Miller, a senior associate with global consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton. Miller, whose company has been a Hyperion customer for the past three years, likes what he sees in the revamped System 9, which Booz Allen Hamilton is currently pilot testing.

Above all else, says Miller, System 9 delivers the goods, synergy-wise, as a combined platform for BI and BPM. "We’ll be using System 9 to display both financial and operational metrics. On the financial side, we’ll have the classic revenue contribution, etc., and maybe of more importance to the senior managers is the operational metrics that they can use to manage the business," he comments. "I think [System 9] does bring together both the operational and financial [functionality], and using the planning [capabilities] we can also display the planned information right next to our ERP information."

Kevin Cook, director of firm-wide financial reporting systems with Booz Allen, says System 9’s BI and BPM synergy extends beneath the covers too.

"We’ve been talking to them about this for a couple of years as far as going down a path where there’s seamless integration between their product line. They’d developed some of their products, they’d acquired some of their products, and you could tell. It’s a different look and feel, different user IDs, URLs, a lot of different management headaches," he comments. "This is exactly what we asked them for. [System 9] brings user provisioning and a single workspace for users, and all of that common ground is going to allow us to deliver things faster and better to our users. I won’t need that set of different URLs, different user IDs, security: all of that is going to be in one central place."

Booz Allen plans to use System 9 to eliminate several manual processes that have both BI and BPM requirements. "One process we’re replacing is generally manual; [our business analysts are] actually generating some reports out of the data warehouse into excel, and from there into PowerPoint," says Miller. "But we’re going to replace that process and it’s going to save some of our internal finance people weeks of effort every month."

He likes System 9’s consistent UI and seamless underpinnings, which he says amount to a "home run" on Hyperion’s part. "I think that along with the one look-and-feel which I think is going to be a big selling point for our users, there’s also one place to go for everything, as opposed to one URL for scorecarding, one [place to go] for planning, and one for reporting," he concludes.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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