CATEGORY: Business Intelligence
REVIEWER: Robert Williams, C.P.A., senior manager of information systems for Microchip Technology Inc.
BACKGROUND: Microchip Technology Inc., based in Chandler, Arizona, is a manufacturer of 8-bit microcontrollers and analog, low-cost memory devices. The company has annual revenues of $690M and 3,600 employees in offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
PLATFORMS: Applix TM1 and OLAPObjects run on a Compaq DL 580 p3 four-way 900mz Xeon single server. Each regional site uses two-way Compaq servers.
PROBLEM SOLVED: Microchip Technology needed to provide its 350-member sales team with a comprehensive business intelligence solution for updated sales data. The overall system needed to provide five years of daily sales information to the entire worldwide sales force in greater detail, with only one version of the truth and with less effort.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: TM1 is a reliable OLAP tool for reporting and analytics. We selected TM1 in 1997, and through the years, the product has continued to improve. As a result of TM1's real-time memory-based multidimensional architecture, we are able to load our cubes and consolidate worldwide sales data in minutes each day. In the off-hours, we replicate the same data to our two regional servers in Hong Kong and London prior to their workday to help with local reports. TM1's tight integration with Excel has helped the end users build reports that show their data in an easy-to-use format. TM1 has been flexible enough to scale to our growing business. Today, we perform a number of financial and operational analyses with TM1 across many cubes. Some of our cubes have as many as 16 dimensions and more than 130k elements in a single dimension.
STRENGTHS: One of TM1's greatest strengths is its quick daily load times. This aspect of TM1 means there is no waiting to build precalculated summations - giving us real-time consolidation of forecasting data. An additional strength is the overall user response times over the Web (using OLAPObjects). Even our offices in China are pleased with the response times.
WEAKNESSES: The biggest challenge with TM1 is that there is no easy way for the end users to filter a subset of data for further analysis on an ad hoc basis. For example, to look at all the customers whose sales are greater than a certain dollar amount last quarter requires the building of a special cube or a review of the exported data in Excel. While TM1 has filtering functionality, it is not as user friendly as we would like. It is my understanding from Applix that this will be addressed in the next version of TM1.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We evaluated a number of products and selected TM1 based on its price/performance ratio and the amount of effort that would be required to convert from our previous OLAP tool. Since our initial purchase, we have doubled the number of licenses, and the use of TM1 continues to grow throughout the company.
DELIVERABLES: OLAPObjects and TM1 give Microchip access to vital sales information. The overall system has grown from 20 users to more than 350 users in 20 countries. The sales team can now get daily updates. Additionally, the sales team can access daily reports via the Web, and all sales reports are accessible anytime, anywhere. Even more importantly, the sales team is requesting 4,000 Web page views per month, but the system administrator still saves 15 hours per week previously spent creating and distributing reports.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Applix is our best software support vendor. They respond promptly to questions and follow through if the issue is complicated. The support team has a strong understanding of analytic applications and can always find a solution to any problem we encounter. We also worked with Adonix, Inc., a leading supplier of Microsoft and Applix software and consulting services, in the initial development of the OLAPObjects Web site for our basic sales reports. Adonix was well versed in TM1 and OLAPObjects and was instrumental to getting the system up and running.
DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is adequate for the base functionality. In version 8, Applix did a much better job of documenting all the features - in the past it took a call to Applix to understand the many "undocumented" features.
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