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The right mix of BI and CRM analytics

With SAS and Onyx both releasing new products today, businesses need to consider both CRM analytics tools and BI.

Organizations are looking for greater insight into their customers and their business and are asking their CRM provider to give it to them, while also looking outside to business intelligence (BI) vendors to provide reporting tools. Two product announcements today, one from the SAS Institute, a BI vendor in Cary, N.C., and the other from Bellevue-based Onyx Corp., a CRM vendor, illustrate the growing number of options companies have when it comes to reporting.

When Fundtech Ltd., of Israel, went looking for a CRM system to replace the Vantive system the company had been running for "eons," analytics was a critical piece, according to Cenk Ipeker.

"One of our selection criteria was easy reporting," said Ipeker, the vice president of financial operations for the electronic payments company. "With Vantive, we had one person writing reports for whoever asked for it and whenever they had time to do it. It definitely was a barrier."

Fundtech selected a system from Onyx, which is releasing an analytics application built on the Cognos ReportNet platform. The partnership between the CRM vendor and Cognos Inc., a BI vendor based in Ottawa taps into a growing demand. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Accenture showed that 91% of respondents in Fortune 1,000 companies said they need stronger BI capabilities.

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"Anything a CRM company like Onyx can do to bring analytics into the environment the better," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal analyst with Berkeley, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting. "It's always a mix, that's why you want to have a partner like Cognos. Half the time the users have a corporate standard like Cognos or Business Objects. As a vendor you don't want to get involved in some internal battle."

The partnership with Cognos helped Fundtech decide on Onyx, according to Ipeker.

"Mainly, it was much more cost effective to buy Onyx that already had cubes built in," he said. "That portion of the Cognos work was already done, as opposed to calling in consultants and having Cognos or Business Objects telling us how to map our data. We looked at it like Phase I was already built in. For Phase II we have a platform."

Much of the development in BI in the past several years has focused on "casual," or business, users and not the IT department. Fundtech's experience relying on one IT person to fill the reporting needs of the whole company in their free time is not unique. Businesses want to extend BI out to the rest of the company and let those users build their own reports. Not surprisingly, the BI vendors tout their expertise in the area.

"Customers are asking for end-user reporting tools," said SAS CEO Jim Goodnight. "We've spent the last four years working on Web-based reporting."

Today at its annual user group conference, SAS unveiled a new version of its Enterprise BI Server. The server now includes the SAS OLAP (online analytical processing) Server for multidimensional data reports and new OLAP clients at no extra cost. It also features version 2.1 of Web Report Studio, which SAS is positioning against Business Objects and Cognos.

Ideally, a company should have a mix of both CRM analytics and BI, according to Greenbaum. The customer and CRM system is fast becoming the hub of transactional activities.

"Most companies, as they try to execute on a comprehensive CRM strategy, are going to want to have some good analytical tool like BI outside of the CRM package," he said. "Having some kind of third-party tool is the way to go."

Onyx, and the other smaller CRM vendors that made it through the economic downturn, need to start partnering and integrating, according to Mary Wardley, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp.

"These companies that have made it through the storm are retrenching and coming up with a more focused strategy on the things that they do well -- integration among them," she said. "They're positioning the product as something that integrates with something existing, instead of extending it in a rip and replace sort of approach."

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