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9/28/2004
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Leaning On Microsoft For BI

A limited budget prompts a small brokerage firm to forego more elaborate business intelligence functionality and satisfy its BI needs with what it can pull from SQL Server.

Ryan Beck & Co., a brokerage firm based in Jersey City, N.J., has gone into production with a BI analytics application cobbled together with Microsoft tools, most of which came out of the box with Microsoft's SQL Server 2000 suite. Ryan Beck is a small firm -- its entire IT department consists of 40 people, and its budget is "not in the millions, that's for sure," says Mike Sukovich, the firm's vice president of data warehousing. But Microsoft's inexpensive BI gear seems to be doing the trick, at this early stage in its deployment, at least.

Earlier, Ryan Beck tried a BI demo from ProClarity on the recommendation of one of its business partners. Sukovich supervised the demo. "It had more elaborate visualizations than Microsoft, it did a more sophisticated slice-and-dice. But we were able to meet all the requirements of departments with what we already had in place. I won't say it's as pretty or as fancy, but it's certainly as functional." He says the ProClarity software would have cost Ryan Beck between $30,000 and $50,000 for "only five or six seats." With Microsoft, on the other hand, all of the costs were included under Ryan Beck's SQL license.

Sukovich says he also had a look at BI offerings from Cognos, Business Objects and IBM. And again, cost was the primary issue. "To purchase any of the big guys' business intelligence suites was basically impossible for me to push through budget."

To create Ryan Beck's BI application, Sukovich used Microsoft's FoxPro development system and the OLAP engine that comes with SQL. The dashboards are hosted on Microsoft's Sharepoint portal. Some of those dashboards can be displayed with zero footprint, but a lot of it remains in Excel. Microsoft's strategy is "kind of strange," Sukovich says, noting that Microsoft has no overarching trade name for its BI offering. "I think a lot of it they released because of market pressures," Sukovich says. "But, with that said, the stuff is exceptionally stable."

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