PLATFORMS: DSS Suite is running against Teradata and Oracle databases, both on NCR UNIX platforms. Hallmark runs DSS Suite's client and server software on Windows NT and 3.1.

BACKGROUND: Hallmark Cards, Inc., is the world leader in the personal expressions industry, creating and distributing greeting cards, gift wrap, party goods, ornaments, gifts and other products for nearly 40,000 retail outlets including 4,800 of its premier Hallmark Gold Crown card shops, drug stores, mass merchandisers and supermarkets.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Hallmark selected DSS Suite as a key component of its corporate decision support environment in 1995. We had previously written systems in house to deliver decision support data to our business analysts, but determined that MicroStrategy's DSS Suite was better equipped to handle our decision support needs. DSS Suite enabled us to refocus our resources from developing hand-coded solutions to analyzing and applying the information stored in our data warehouse. MicroStrategy delivered the tools and ease of use necessary to make this possible. Our decision support needs became increasingly important when Hallmark rolled out its newest brand, Expressions From Hallmark, in 1997. Using DSS Suite, the decision support group at Hallmark was able to quickly react to the avalanche of new informational requirements stemming from the release of this new brand. DSS Suite continues to play an integral role in the successful management of our product lines.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: DSS Suite delivers a complete decision support package that allows Hallmark managers and business analysts to create complex reports through an easy-to-use, push-button interface. DSS Suite allows users to run standard reports with point-and-click functionality, as well as to build customized, ad hoc reports with minimal effort. Based upon the users' requests, DSS Suite dynamically generates queries which can efficiently access anything from our largest, detail-level tables (averaging hundreds of millions of rows of data each) to our smallest, summary-level tables.

STRENGTHS: DSS Suite's powerful SQL generation engine is certainly a key component to the product's success. The ability to create and submit queries to answer almost any question a business user can dream up is critical when dealing with a database the size of ours. DSS Suite's user interfaces are also the key strengths of MicroStrategy's OLAP solution. These interfaces act as "translators," enabling our analysts to state their questions in business terms and receive answers in easily consumable formats. Users may then navigate through result sets with simple, drilling functionality in an ad hoc fashion--an essential quality for users responsible for understanding and acting upon critical business information.

WEAKNESSES: While DSS Suite runs optimally on a well-equipped workstation, some of our users are still operating on older PCs. These clients have trouble running larger, more sophisticated applications.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Some important selection criteria Hallmark used for selecting its OLAP tool were the power and reliability of its SQL generation engine, ease of use of its GUI interfaces, the ability to create customized front ends and the quality of its management tools. Other criteria include integration with common office products such as Word and Excel, data drilling and surfing capabilities, grid/graph reporting formats and exception reporting. A final key factor was the company's stability and direction.

DELIVERABLES: Over the last few years, Hallmark has rolled out DSS Suite to over 200 managers and analysts, and use of decision support data has greatly increased. Business analysts are now able to identify changes in the marketplace as they occur and adjust product lines and business plans accordingly.

VENDOR SUPPORT: MicroStrategy has a number of skilled consultants who have been very supportive of Hallmark on several occasions. We have also utilized their support line, which has been very responsive.

DOCUMENTATION: MicroStrategy's Web site has proven invaluable to Hallmark as we test new products and install new releases. They also keep us up to date with hard copies of their product documentation, which is also available on-line.

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