CATEGORY: Business Performance Management
REVIEWER: Trevor Rigby, senior manager of financial planning for Cingular.
BACKGROUND: Cingular provides voice and data services to more than 23 million customers across the United States. With presence in 43 of the top 50 U.S. markets, Cingular is the nation's second largest cellular provider, offering corporate e-mail and other advanced data services through its GSM/GPRS and Mobitex packet data networks.
PLATFORMS: Cingular and OutlookSoft set up Everest on a single server running the Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server operating system, Microsoft SQL Server 2000 and Microsoft Analysis Services as a central point for collecting data from every domain, server and client system in the company.
PROBLEM SOLVED: When SBC and Bell South merged in 2000 to form Cingular, there were four key issues that needed to be addressed: centralizing the storage of business-related information, improving access to information for reports, streamlining analysis tools and integrating the data sources with different systems and platforms.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Using Everest, Cingular streamlined and unified its financial processes for its employees. Cingular's financial personnel set up reporting and analysis models in Microsoft Excel to serve as the basis for building customized, online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes and dimensions for the system. Real-time data collection is now available to employees directly from their PCs using the Everest Process Manager Page and familiar Excel spreadsheets. Everest allows client computers to interact with data in a dynamic interface so that changes to the data are collected and distributed automatically in real time straight from the central database. Cingular employees can also access information using a Web-based portal component that uses Microsoft Internet Explorer to connect directly to Everest and the centralized database. This portal gives employees without access to Excel or employees who are outside the Cingular network a real-time look at the data from any location throughout the company. Ubiquitous access to the data and preformatted reporting in a familiar interface (Excel) has increased productivity and provided time savings by circumventing manual report creation and manipulation in the unfamiliar environments required by previous systems. With minimal initial training and consulting, Cingular employees were able to operate and upgrade the product without assistance from OutlookSoft. Additionally, a database administrator was required to verify each person's access. Because Everest connects directly to the SQL Server database, revisions to that database's architecture are completed automatically for the user.
STRENGTHS: The strengths of Everest include real-time access to company information provided on a central server, allowing everyone in regional offices and headquarters to view the same version of data; integrated reporting from multiple sources, along with analysis tools; immediate economies including quick deployment, short learning curve and simplified system management; and ease of use and increased productivity with familiar software.
WEAKNESSES: The product training could be more interactive. Additionally, all supporting documentation and help files are online only.
SELECTION CRITERIA: Hyperion, Cognos and Oracle were also considered as part of an eight-month review process. OutlookSoft was chosen based on their unified Web-based approach, fast implementation and ease of use.
DELIVERABLES: OutlookSoft Everest is used for all company business planning, reporting and analysis processes including annual budgets and monthly reports. Everest is also used for operational purposes such as manufacturing, sales data, customer and employee counts, inventory measurements and payroll.
VENDOR SUPPORT: OutlookSoft provided superior support throughout the entire implementation process. The full implementation took only three months and after training and consulting on the system, we were able to easily operate and update the system without additional support.
DOCUMENTATION: Documentation is complete and easy to understand. Once people are trained and the system is implemented, you could run the system relying on documentation. However, I would not attempt to implement a product such as this without knowing that I could rely fully on vendor support.
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