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Gartner Lee Models The Future

Forced to build forecasts far more complex than Excel can handle, an environmental-consulting firm foregoes more advanced BI tools and puts its faith in a startup modeling specialist.

Environmental-consulting firm Gartner Lee is in the business of projecting the future. A new waste-management operation in Brunei, a new municipal water system in a mid-size Ontario city, a mine reclamation project in British Columbia -- businesses and governments hire Gartner Lee to create elaborate models that forecast everything from a project's budget to the likely needs of a community, based on population growth and other variables, thirty years down the road. Called "financial-decision support models," they're heavy on economic and environmental data, and heavy on computing.

For years, Gartner Lee, Markham, Ontario, used Excel spreadsheets to create and present models for its clients. "But as we've been going along, the models were getting more and more complicated, and also ballooning in scale," says Andy Keir, vice president of strategic development at Gartner Lee. "We found that we needed something that would allow us to do our modeling much faster." Excel couldn't deal quickly with the sheer number of variables that Gartner's consultants needed to throw at it, Keir says, so the firm set out to find some modeling-specific software that could.

In 2003, Gartner's IT department tested a number of different options. They looked at offerings from Oracle. They looked at enterprise modeling software from Cognos, among other vendors who specialize in BI analytics. And then, after a search on the Web, they discovered a tiny modeling specialist out of Portland, Maine, a recent start-up with a seemingly innovative approach and, perhaps most importantly, a cheap price. "We stumbled onto Quantrix," Keir says. "We gave it a try, and, lo and behold, it turned out to be an interesting tool."

Quantrix began life in 2002, the brainchild of Peter Murray, a longtime programmer and CTO at a range of high-tech and dot-com companies, including the Silicon Valley development shop Lighthouse Design, long since acquired by Sun Microsystems. There he first worked on spreadsheet-modeling software technology, also called Quantrix.

The origins of the concept were simple: A discrepancy seemed to exist between the Excel spreadsheets many people used to create financial forecasting models and the ever-expanding complexity of those models. "Our position is that Excel is a technology designed to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator," says Chris Houle, Quantrix's chief operating officer and co-founder of the company with Murray. "It hasn't changed in 15 years. But business users' needs have grown exponentially during that same time -- the people who want to do quantitative modeling -- and that gap represents what Quantrix is going after."

The company rolled out version 1.1 of its Quantrix Modeler for commercial release in November 2003, and Gartner Lee was among the first to buy into the product. Indeed, Gartner was such an early adopter that the input it gave Quantrix in the wake of that first release helped the software company make improvements, which became part of version 1.2, released in July. Meanwhile, over those 18 months, Quantrix has landed 170 customers in 30 countries, according to Houle, spanning financial planning firms to manufacturing companies to economists and business professors in academia.

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