BACKGROUND: The University of Toledo (UT) is an urban university based in Ohio. The College of Business Administration at UT has approximately 400 graduate and 2,700 undergraduate students. Our mission is to provide future business leaders with leading-edge technology skills to compete in the highly competitive global economy.

PLATFORMS: Comshare Application Server 3.1, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Office 2000 and Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 support Comshare DecisionWeb through Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Today's business environment is characterized by increasing complexity, voluminous information and greater uncertainty. Decision- makers have to contend with rapidly changing customer requirements, shrinking market niches and highly focused global competitors. Providing its decision- makers with tools and concepts to compete in this dynamic environment is key to ensuring survival. The current learning approach has yet to meet this challenge. What is required is a new approach that can train future business leaders to effectively generate business insights using business intelligence solutions. Using the best business intelligence software and the latest business models, students are able to develop insightful questions, demonstrate strategic thinking and recommend performance-related action plans.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Comshare DecisionWeb is an excellent software tool with many useful functions for both developers and managers. This product is easily customizable and includes a variety of chart formats. The overview charting, the color-coded exception highlighting and the alert features provide the user with the ability to probe and find problem areas. Capturing user- specific questions and customized answers are accomplished through the topic and report feature. These functionalities provide the methods to do effective data mining.

STRENGTHS: The Web-centric approach allows virtually unlimited geographic access to the application, and the unique topic and report shell allows the capability to develop a guided analysis framework. DecisionWeb offers a unique overview function that provides a graphical view of thousands of points of data; it offers a variety of customizable charting options and calculation capabilities. The dimension controller on-the-grid functionality simplifies analysis steps. The exception highlighting capability helps pinpoint potential problem areas. Finally, DecisionWeb releases are easy to install and integrate into the existing application.

WEAKNESSES: Existing training and manuals clearly explain how to use the tool and develop applications, yet the training lacks the context of when and how to apply the tool to achieve insight and create competitive advantage. Missing in the documentation are guided-analysis manuals, books and guidelines on how to apply the tool to solve business problems. This limitation required writing a book to supplement the software and the existing training material. This supplemental book focuses on integrating the tool with business models to enhance critical questioning capabilities.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We required the ability to quickly develop, implement and modify our business intelligence application. Ease of use for the students, consistent, quick performance and extensive analytic functionality were key requirements. The system administrators required that the system be easy to maintain and monitor. DecisionWeb coupled with Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 OLAP Services became the obvious choice.

DELIVERABLES: DecisionWeb enables us to deliver an innovative educational experience that provides the students an opportunity to gain proficiency with business intelligence tools, to understand decision models and to develop insights more quickly. Access through an Internet browser to the multidimensional database allows students to perform their exercises and case analyses.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The Comshare team has provided us with tremendous support. The marketing and technical teams have provided product directions and advice on performance tuning and application development. The Comshare help line team has been very responsive and knowledgeable.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is available in an online format for both end users and developers. The end-user documentation is easy to understand and contains many links to additional information. The developer documentation is technical in nature and includes many examples and troubleshooting tips.

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