CATEGORY: BI Tools

REVIEWERS: Paul Bushman, director of business intelligence, and Charlie Parker, business intelligence architect, at MeriStar Hotels & Resorts.

BACKGROUND: The Washington, D.C.-based MeriStar companies comprise two separate corporations ­ MeriStar Hospitality Corporation and MeriStar Hotels & Resorts, Inc. MeriStar Hospitality is the nation's third largest hotel real estate investment trust, and MeriStar Hotels & Resorts is the largest independent hotel management company, with annual revenues of approximately $300 million and $1.3 billion, respectively.

PLATFORMS: Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 running on a Dell PowerEdge 6300 and 2 Pentium Xeon 450, 1GB RAM, Microsoft IIS Servers.

PROBLEM SOLVED: MeriStar was looking for a financial consolidation and reporting product that would allow it to easily gather results from disparate data sources, translate that data into meaningful business information and efficiently present that information to decision-makers. The solution would also have to be easy to implement, use and maintain. iTM1 met all these needs. MeriStar is further developing their iTM1 solution by making their business information available to all users via a Web-based interface.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Applix iTM1 helps MeriStar gain detailed control over operating information. By gaining better control over forecasts and budgets, we are able to manage our business more effectively. iTM1 provides the tools to consolidate and analyze our business information in terms we understand and specify, allowing us to be proactive instead of reactive. MeriStar gathers data from its locations in either flat files or data tables which are then run through a data cleansing and transformation process. We use iTM1's TurboIntegrator product to quickly load the data into iTM1. Turbo-Integrator has drastically reduced data load times. Applix iTM1 allows us to begin analysis almost instantly. We can locate trends, identify areas needing improvement and then make the appropriate changes and adjustments. Applix iTM1 will be rolling out to new departments and individual properties via an enterprise intelligence portal currently being developed. The enterprise intelligence portal will allow individuals within MeriStar to see their business intelligence data via a Web interface which will further speed the data consolidation and analysis cycle, and give the users greater control and understanding of their individual hotel and department operations. With Applix iTM1 at all levels of the corporation, we should be able to maximize our operational efficiencies for the greatest possible results.

STRENGTHS: Applix iTM1 provides a powerful, intuitive, user-friendly tool for harnessing our business information. Applix iTM1's Turbo-Integrator enables quick data loads into iTM1. The rich security features of the product make it well suited for our finance and budgeting needs.

WEAKNESSES: iTM1 does not have built-in time intelligence; therefore, any time calculations must be done via rules and attributes which can be difficult to build. Since the product is not 100 percent OLE DB compliant, there are limited third-party products that can connect to the iTM1 engine.

SELECTION CRITERIA: At the time we were shopping for an OLAP product, MeriStar had three centralized accounting operations and a number of standalone hotel operations. With so many different data sources, data collection became difficult. We looked into various products for one we could use to easily do our financial consolidations, but did not want to buy a product that would require a lot of IT support and heavy dependency on consulting services. I went to the Applix Web site, downloaded the demo and built a rough data cube in a few hours. I then ran a process in a few minutes that had previously involved hours of cutting and pasting. We began running the demo for other colleagues and decision-makers at MeriStar, and enthusiasm grew.

DELIVERABLES: Within each model, we can look at the data based on criteria such as hotel brand, ownership, geographic region, responsibility, size, etc. The value that iTM1 adds is the speed and accuracy of the analysis. By gaining better control over these elements, MeriStar is able to manage its business more effectively. In the past it would take hours or even days to gather the data, input it into spreadsheets, print and distribute the data. iTM1 allows us to begin analysis almost instantly.

VENDOR SUPPORT: MeriStar worked with Applix Leadership Alliance Partner, Adonix, Inc., to help build and deploy the solution. Adonix provided the guidance we needed to use iTM1 rules more effectively and to develop more efficient data analysis dimensions. MeriStar is also working with Adonix teaming partner Creeth Richman and Associates in deploying iTM1 to the Web. In both cases, the vendors have been very responsive to our needs.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation is complete and easy to understand, but the information on rules and attributes could be expanded.

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