REVIEWER: Lawrence Bell, senior manager of the U.S. pharmaceuticals information architecture team for Pfizer.

BACKGROUND: Pfizer Inc., headquartered in New York City and founded in 1849, is one of the world's premier research-based pharmaceutical companies. With nearly 50,000 employees working on six continents, Pfizer specializes in prescription medicines, over-the-counter healthcare products and animal health products

PLATFORMS: We're running Windows NT on Compaq servers and UNIX on Sun hardware. We typically do a lot of our prototyping on NT and move to UNIX for actual deployment.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Pfizer gathers a wide range of useful information, including data from our sales force automation system, historical transaction data, and external market and competitor information from third-party data providers. The problem was that there was no way of providing end users with easy access to the specific information they needed. We tried several different business intelligence tools, but they didn't address our needs. We wanted to build applications customized to our users, not force our users to customize themselves to a packaged tool. AlphaBlox gave us the power and flexibility we needed to rapidly assemble personalized analytical applications. Now people at headquarters can get key sales data, and users in the field can access more that just what's in the sales force automation application.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: AlphaBlox has helped Pfizer shorten the time frame between application prototype and actual deployment. The technology works right out of the box. We just drag and drop application components onto the templates, and we're up and running. Our AlphaBlox applications appear as interactive Web pages that can be easily customized to match the look and feel of our corporate systems and integrate seamlessly with the rest of our Web infrastructure. We've actually modeled these new applications after some of our existing systems, so training will be minimal. We've also created a portal that combines static content such as announcements and notes right on the same page with our analytical data. Once the sales organization saw the prototypes, they got very excited about what we were doing.

STRENGTHS: No other product even comes close to AlphaBlox in allowing total control over the look and feel of application, and it's easy to personalize applications to individual users. All we have to do is set one attribute, and we can completely customize the interface. AlphaBlox is like Baskin Robbins ­ you can pick all the flavors you want, and there are still more to choose from.

WEAKNESSES: The hardest thing with AlphaBlox is figuring out exactly what you want to do with it, because it can do so much. Careful application design can ensure that power users have the functionality they want, without overwhelming casual users.

SELECTION CRITERIA: I've been in this field for more than 10 years and looked at many other BI tools. All of them are limited in their ability to customize the application environment, and they force you to use their infrastructure. The beauty of AlphaBlox is that you don't have to hire a bunch of expensive consultants for months just to implement it. Anyone with knowledge of HTML and JavaScript get can started building applications right away.

DELIVERABLES: We're using AlphaBlox as part of an overall information architecture. The application is called Sales Information Online, and it's helping us gain competitive advantage. We currently have 2-3 dozen users, and we are preparing for broader deployment ­ potentially to thousands of people throughout the organization. Users are already asking for additional data and capabilities ­ which AlphaBlox lets us easily add ­ and the finance and marketing departments have approached us about developing additional applications to meet their information needs.

VENDOR SUPPORT: AlphaBlox cares a lot about our success. Anytime we've had a problem, they've come in and fixed it, whether it was the tool itself or our own implementation. They've been really receptive to our needs.

DOCUMENTATION: We've been able to run the product easily with the provided documentation. If we couldn't get an answer from the documentation, there was always someone available to answer it.

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