REVIEWER: Stephen Vandivier, CEO of AVANCO International, Inc.

BACKGROUND: AVANCO is a software integration and applications development business that develops applications ranging from complicated accounting, management and marketing systems to medical analysis databases used by physicians to ensure the health and longevity of premature babies. Our commitment to technical excellence, quality services and responsiveness to client needs is the key to our success.

PLATFORMS: AVANCO implements Web-based data mart and data warehousing systems for commercial, state and local, and federal clients in many hardware environments including Sun Solaris on Intel-based Windows 2000 platforms. The company leverages the Oracle9i Application Server (Oracle9iAS) Discoverer ad hoc analysis tool for clients to access and analyze relational data stored in Oracle databases.

PROBLEM SOLVED: AVANCO's clients typically have the same problems regardless of the vertical market in which they compete. Too many clients require immediate access to their corporate information assets and can't get to them. Technology managers waste time reacting to corporate requests to write customized reports for internal needs when they could otherwise proactively work to add value within the organization. A change to reporting requirements often takes weeks to implement. Oracle9iAS Discoverer offers an intuitive and flexible Web-based interface that places the power of corporate reporting and decision support in the hands of decision- makers. The major business benefits of this functionality include easy information access, analysis and sharing, the return on investment (ROI) from IT savings and improved customer response.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The business intelligence capabilities in Oracle9iAS Discoverer provide advanced tools for creating, running and managing analytical applications. End users can access charting, graphing and ad hoc query and analysis functionality through a secure, personalized Web interface. Oracle9iAS Discoverer provides a feature-rich ad hoc query tool that maintains a very intuitive look and feel for the end user. The technology provides advanced analytical capabilities including top/bottom 10 rankings, periodic versus cumulative, comparison between two periods, drill-down analysis, sort and pivot, on-the-fly totals, percentages, moving averages, robust charting and integration with e-mail and spreadsheet tools. The product scales well on the Web using a fairly sophisticated architecture that avoids continuous calls to the Oracle HTTP Server, an Oracle version of the Apache Server. Oracle9iAS Discoverer's architecture takes advantage of application and network load-balancing techniques and sophisticated caching mechanisms to improve response time and performance for decision support in a three-tier architecture.

STRENGTHS: The greatest strength of the product is its ease of use. Our clients are productive after less than a day of training on the capabilities of the tool. Oracle9iAS Discoverer offers seamless report exports at the touch of a button to Excel, Lotus, HTML, Oracle9i Reports (XML format), comma separated variable (CSV) and other formats. Sophisticated meta data management functions, developed in the administrator of the tool, allow data managers to create hierarchies, enforce security, define data items, register summary tables and create an ad hoc query and analysis environment that matches business needs. Managers can proactively collect statistics and produce reports that identify potential bottlenecks.

WEAKNESSES: Oracle9iAS Discoverer works optimally when querying an Oracle database. While it is possible to use the product to access Informix, Sybase, DB2 and other relational databases using open database connectivity (ODBC) drivers, the product loses a great deal of functionality and performance in a non-Oracle query environment.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Our clients have selected Oracle9iAS Discoverer because of its ease of use, tight integration with the Oracle database and Oracle9i Developer Suite, and its powerful reporting abilities.

DELIVERABLES: The business intelligence technology in Oracle9iAS Discoverer produces reports called workbooks that can be stored within the database and on the network file system. Workbooks can be exported to a number of accessible formats including HTML, CSV and XML for Oracle9i Reports and Excel.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Oracle offers 24x7 technical support. The Oracle MetaLink Web site contains tips, product patches and software downloads, and the Oracle Technology Network (OTN) site includes white papers, best practices and technical discussion forums.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation is excellent, and Oracle9iAS Discoverer's quick online business intelligence tour provides an outstanding primer that will support immediate user productivity with the tool.

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