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3/1/2005
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Faster and Easier Analytics

ProClarity analytics platform gets faster, easier.

PROS
•Closely integrated with Microsoft technologies
•Good information organization and visualization capabilities
•User-friendly interface and features
CONS
•Lacks support for non-Microsoft platforms
•Alert and notification capabilities underutilized
•Installation and documentation need improvement

From a business perspective, BI is the sum of three fundamental processes: assembling data, analyzing it and presenting it to the user. ProClarity provides for the last two by offering advanced data analytics, visualization and reporting, and a platform for creating custom analytic applications.

Now in version 6, ProClarity has long been known for taking some of the administrative and pricing pain out of data analytics and reporting by piggybacking on Microsoft's SQL Server database management system and the OLAP and report servers packaged with it: Analysis Services and Reporting Services. ProClarity builds on Microsoft's OLAP data management strengths, such as its data mining capabilities and the option to manage multidimensional data in relational OLAP (ROLAP), multidimensional OLAP (MOLAP) or hybrid storage models. It's ready to integrate with the SQL Server 2005 (Yukon) release expected soon.

New in version 6 are some additional visualization capabilities, additional KPI definitions and icons, many new navigation and automation features designed for quicker insight, deeper integration with Excel and Reporting Services, and performance improvements. If you are a Microsoft shop, ProClarity can offer some advantages over competitors in terms of ease of implementation and use. Although some of the enhancements in this version are differentiators, others (such as new KPI definitions) play catch-up with BI heavyweights such as BusinessObjects and Cognos. The best solution for your environment will of course depend on your user base and budget.

I evaluated ProClarity 6 by installing the full suite on a Windows XP laptop (with a 498MHz Intel Pentium III CPU and 576MB of RAM), which served as both client and server. The installation process and documentation leave something to be desired. Even the vanilla setup required a series of semiautomated steps that demanded significant manual intervention. Overall, however, ProClarity is well designed and integrates smoothly with Microsoft technologies.

At the heart of the ProClarity solution is its family of servers: Analytics Server, Business Logic Server and Dashboard Server. The ProClarity Analytics Server (PAS), the centerpiece of this trio, is a midtier server with a thin client called Web Standard, a repository called the Analytics Server database, which resides within Microsoft SQL Server, and an administrative tool. PAS is the go-between for ProClarity clients and Microsoft Analysis Services. It also provides centralized security, on top of the Windows security model, and shared repository services. In particular, PAS gives users a way to publish key performance indicators (KPIs) and other user-defined knowledge, then share it with other users in the form of "Briefing Books."

Briefing Books and their components can be created, shared, distributed through e-mail and exported to Excel or Outlook. They are easy to work with and an effective mechanism for organizing and sharing knowledge, but they should be designed with care by experienced practitioners. To optimize performance, PAS offers connection pooling and the ability to cache pages of Briefing Books,

The Business Logic Server lets users store predefined analytic best practices, including business logic and rules, KPIs and member and set definitions (such as year-to-date growth). Two client-side tools — KPI Designer and Selector — let users add content to the Business Logic Server. Dashboard Server lets them share content at a higher level, such as by creating and sharing subject areas that encapsulate best practices. Sharing content in this form looks like a good way to enhance productivity and consistency.

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