CATEGORY: Business Intelligence

REVIEWER: John Suarez, data warehouse analyst for Ace Hardware Corporation.

BACKGROUND: Headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois, Ace Hardware Corporation is the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the industry. Ace Hardware has 5,000 independently owned and operated stores located in all 50 states and in 72 countries on six continents, with annual retail sales exceeding $13 billion.

PLATFORMS: Intel-based hardware, Windows 2000 Server Professional, 4-node NCR Teradata Data Warehouse V2R4.1 with 2.5 terabytes of DASD.

PROBLEM SOLVED: MicroStrategy delivers one version of the truth to our large and diverse user community. This was achieved with MicroStrategy's single meta data for our entire business intelligence (BI) platform, guaranteeing two critical needs were met. First, all business reports and analyses are accurate and identical across all user communities. Second, changes to any report are immediately propagated throughout the application. Both of these ensure one version of the truth for our 2,000+ users that include executives, store owners and business analysts. The MicroStrategy Business Intelligence Platform also provides us with the ease of use required for our diverse user base without sacrificing the full set of reporting and analysis features we need. The software is straightforward for beginners, yet powerful enough to support the requirements of advanced users. Until we finish migrating our remaining systems, our original analytical reporting tool is still being used in conjunction with the MicroStrategy platform. Once the migration is complete, MicroStrategy will provide all of our reporting, analysis and information delivery with accurate, insightful and near real-time information.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: In one integrated platform over a zero-footprint Web browser client, MicroStrategy delivers the full spectrum of BI functionality we need for our diverse users –­ standard report consumption, slice-and-dice functionality, investigative discovery and ad hoc analysis. The intuitive browser-based interface has made our MicroStrategy applications very accessible to end users and, consequently, increased the overall success of our implementation. The thin-Web client reduces our overall administration because our users can access their reports from the Web without incurring security breaches and maintenance headaches associated with software downloads.

STRENGTHS: MicroStrategy provides the industrial-strength technology required for our enterprise-wide BI applications. We started with a small business intelligence deployment with the goal of deploying enterprise-wide to more than 5,000 stores. After two years, we have eight BI applications in production with more than 2,000 users analyzing every detail of our 2.5 terabyte data warehouse. MicroStrategy scales easily to our growing internal and external user base, to our ever-expanding data warehouse and to the number and types of applications required to maintain our competitive advantage.

WEAKNESSES: An initially perceived weakness of the product was that it was too intimidating because of its vast capabilities. We found that users had difficulty wading through its expansive functionality and in-depth feature set. This resulted in an initial lack of user understanding on configuring the software for maximum functionality.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Scalability is the number one reason we selected MicroStrategy –­ its ability to meet the needs of a large user base and a large database to eventually grow to an enterprise-wide deployment. Because Ace Hardware has users across the country, this Web-based product proved the best fit. Our field staff can access information and run reports anywhere, anytime, while our administrators do not need to install software on every machine. MicroStrategy also has an unparalleled understanding of and experience in the retail market.

DELIVERABLES: Ace Hardware is using the MicroStrategy platform to anchor numerous business intelligence applications, including its marketing analysis, customer loyalty, retail pricing, category management, merchandising, inventory, wholesale pricing and store operations applications. Ace Hardware's corporate and retail users generate 100+ unique reports in addition to more than 30 unique reports generated by its wholesale staff. A variety of Ace Hardware employees use the technology to target promotions to loyal customers, determine optimal product mixes for different types of stores and suggest best- of-retail pricing to Ace Hardware stores that are designed to increase profit margins.

VENDOR SUPPORT: MicroStrategy worked hand-in-hand with NCR's consulting group providing us with a joint support program. Our staff has had the opportunity to attend several training sessions and has found the support programs and help desk to be phenomenal. MicroStrategy strives to understand our needs and provides ongoing insight and guidance on projects.

DOCUMENTATION: We have found the documentation to be a helpful take-away, supplying and reinforcing what we learned during training.

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