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Now With Enterprise Reporting: Hyperion Performance Suite

Hyperion beefs up reporting and dashboarding.

PROS
•SQR Language and Intelligence give developers flexibility
•Foundation Services portal supports third-party content and easily customizable "My Foundation" pages
•Tightly integrated dashboards appeal to casual users
CONS
•Basic, optional business views (or metadata layer) endanger consistency of business calculations
•Product line not yet integrated on back end with rest of Hyperion BI Platform
•Spreadsheet integration limited to raw data export

Hyperion's acquisition of Brio and its SQR enterprise reporting product in Q4 2003, was part of a flurry of reporting and analysis convergence occurring at the time. But while other vendors publicly declared their product plans, Hyperion was more reticent and, to many outsiders, the future of the former Brio product line seemed uncertain. Despite how quietly Hyperion was improving and integrating the products under the Hyperion Performance Suite name, however, this suite has been the company's fastest-growing product line since the Brio acquisition--in part because Brio rounded out Hyperion's offering for customers who want a broad spectrum of BI and BPM capabilities.

Query and Reporting Combined

Hyperion Performance Suite includes enterprise reporting (SQR) and ad hoc query (Hyperion Intelligence) in one suite with an integrated server environment and security. SQR has its own 4GL language, allowing developers a high degree of flexibility in creating presentation-ready reports on large data sets. Hyperion Intelligence, meanwhile, is positioned as an ad hoc query tool with lightweight OLAP capabilities. This is where Hyperion Intelligence and the company's heavyweight Essbase 7X are a complementary and powerful combination: Intelligence allows simple drill down against small data sets and can also query Essbase cubes via the same interface. On the other hand, the Essbase platform supports robust OLAP calculations against large data sets.

Customers talk about the suite's quick implementation time and high degree of flexibility. This flexibility is in part possible because a metadata layer (or "Business View") is optional, unlike in competing products. Query authors create data models that contain the physical columns and joins between tables. Metatopics are optional logical layers above the physical data models and have added capabilities, such as the ability to rename columns to business-friendly terms, define aggregations and create computations. However, metatopics are stored within the document (.bqy) files, making them difficult to share with other users. They're further limited by their ability to handle only a single star schema at a time with no support for multipass SQL. For example, when trying to create a report that displayed actuals from one fact table with plan figures from another fact table, I had to create two separate data models and two queries and then join the data at the report level. The fact that I could combine these queries is a relatively unique capability in the market and one that represents another example of Hyperion Performance Suite's power. However, it also means that you have to build more business logic into individual documents and reports — great for flexibility but not for scalability and enterprisewide deployments.

Web-based Delivery

Just as the Internet bubble eventually burst, it's hard to say yet if full Web authoring is a boom or bust. At one point, Hyperion Intelligence, with its plug-in approach, seemed to be lagging behind competitors that fully embraced Web-based authoring. Plug-ins were the bane of Web deployments, with their fat footprints and security risks. Yet some customers who select Hyperion Performance Suite specifically point to the plug-in that offers users benefits few browser-based BI tools can claim: disconnected access, a Windows-like user interface and fast response times.

With both SQR and Intelligence, reports are authored on the desktop and published to the Internet. From the Foundation Services Layer, users can interact with reports either via a zero-footprint client or a plug-in that offers more functionality. Brio version 6 customers will appreciate the extensive interactive capabilities in the new HTML interface. While viewing a pivot section, I could easily insert totals, re-sort the data and drill with a simple right click. Similarly, when viewing a chart, I could right-click to change the chart type. In the past, this was only possible via the plug-in client.

Dashboards Key to BPM

Within the BI industry, customers and vendors talk about ways to extend BI's reach. Dashboards are one way to do this. Hyperion recently acquired QIQ and its wizard-driven dashboard builder. Hyperion Performance Suite 8.3 has tightly integrated these capabilities and is positioning dashboards as "the face of business performance management."

Dashboards let casual users navigate sections of Hyperion Intelligence documents, which can be charts, pivot tables or OLAP data sources. (See the screen capture below.) Users can focus on certain product lines via drop-down lists, for example, and all the related charts and tables are dynamically updated. The dashboards provide front-end integration beyond that available in the former Brio product line, also allowing content from Analyzer (an Essbase front end) and Hyperion Reports (for financial reporting).

screen capture
Hyperion Performance Suite's integrated, wizard-driven dashboards help a broad base of users navigate content and view multiple metrics such as charts and pivot tables from one screen.

The Dashboard Builder gives developers a wizardlike environment to provide users with navigation buttons and drop-downs. However, there are no prebuilt dashboard "widgets," such as those found in higher-end dashboard products. For example, to create indicators that show an upward or downward trend arrow, a report developer is forced to write if-then-else logic and use wingdings font formatting.

Still, early adopters of Hyperion Performance Suite 8.3 credit the dashboard capabilities with meeting the needs of a broader base of users without requiring further training.

On The Path To Integration

Hyperion is positioning BI as the underpinnings of business performance management, where it has long been a leader. Its strength in financial applications has given the company an edge when it comes to relationships with CFOs and financial users.

As the company expands beyond finance and into enterprisewide BI, integration issues that affect cost of ownership concern CIOs and IT shops with limited resources. Here, the company's product line is still fragmented. The analytic applications (Hyperion Planning and Hyperion Finance) and the OLAP server (Essbase) now use the same server environment, security and metadata. However, the same isn't yet true of Hyperion Performance Suite, which has its own server infrastructure and security. The company's next major release, code named Avalanche (scheduled for release this fall), is supposed to address the back-end integration problems.

Many customers are still on preacquisition Brio 6 and seem unaware of the changed server architecture. With version 8, SQR and Hyperion Intelligence use common security and services. For example, the new data access service now supports connection pooling, limiting overhead on the BI server as well as the back-end database. These services can be spread across multiple application servers and platforms, and here is where Hyperion has a distinct advantage over competitors: broad platform support.

  • Hyperion Performance Suite runs on Windows, all major Unix platforms and Linux. Hyperion Performance Suite 8.3 is available from Hyperion Solutions, www.hyperion.com.
  • Cindi Howson is the president of ASK, a BI consultancy. She teaches the Data Warehousing Institute's "Evaluating BI Toolsets" and publishes independent BI research on BIScorecard.com. Write to her at [email protected].