BACKGROUND: First Investors Financial Services (FIFS) Group, Inc. is a specialized consumer finance company engaged in the purchase and retention of receivables originated by franchised automobile dealers from the sale of new and late-model used vehicles to consumers with substandard credit profiles. The company has offices in Houston, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia.

PLATFORMS: OLAP@Work v1.2 for Microsoft Excel is currently being run on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Workstations and Windows 98. OLAP Services is provided by Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 running on a Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0.

PROBLEM SOLVED: The First Investors Business Intelligence Network, or, is the company's data warehouse of operational and performance data. It combines data from the company's loan origination and loan servicing production systems into a cleansed, homogenous environment for reporting and analysis on a daily basis. FIFS was looking for a product to support the needs of the analytical users in the company.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: OLAP@Work is meeting and exceeding the needs of this group of users. It has been simple to deploy among various versions of Microsoft Excel. Users have been able to quickly develop ad hoc as well as recurring analysis and reports with a minimal learning curve. It is anticipated that more true production reporting will be done with this product versus merely ad hoc. OLAP@Work's unique support of write-back may be utilized in the future for a planning and budgeting application.

STRENGTHS: The product is elegantly simple to use, yet packed with many powerful features. The graphical interface is attractive and well designed. The built-in and custom formulas are quite powerful and offer the ability to write-back calculated members to the cube with proper permissions. The option to auto-refresh upon opening a spreadsheet is especially useful for automating reporting.

WEAKNESSES: Refresh and retrieval times are impacted by the amount of formatting in the retrieval area. Although quite robust in incorporating Microsoft Excel formula functionality, it is occasionally necessary to retrieve data in one section of the report and refer to it from another section to get just the right report format you are seeking.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Microsoft Excel is the main tool used for analysis and for much of the reporting. A product that works inside Excel would provide the most immediate productivity because users would not need to transfer data and they would be able to use the familiar Microsoft Excel functionality. While many products offered the ability to export to Excel, OLAP@Work is completely contained within the spreadsheet application.

DELIVERABLES: Users were able to recreate a large number of existing reports and analysis that were based upon another OLAP tool in a matter of days. This quickly eliminated the need to support multiple OLAP tools. Analysts are using the product to drill down into business operating results to identify opportunities and issues.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Implementation required very little vendor support. However, phone support was available and e-mail support was prompt.

DOCUMENTATION: The Getting Started guide provides an excellent introduction and tutorial to OLAP@Work and is quite sufficient. More detailed features are documented in the online help, which is well structured.

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