IBM to Acquire Star Analytics for Financial Data Integration
IBM this week announced its pending acquisition of the Star Analytics product portfolio. Star Analytics is a privately held company that offers products designed to provide easy access to and integration with Oracle Hyperion data sources. While Star Analytics has a good product and solid references, it has lacked critical mass to support more effective sales and marketing efforts. Star Analytics’ strategic value to IBM lies in its ability to unlock data held in Oracle Essbase multidimensional databases, which is the repository for applications such as Hyperion Enterprise, Financial Management and Planning. It supports IBM’s aim to offer comprehensive business analytics capabilities, which means it must be able to facilitate access to all data sources. Longer term, it enables IBM to compete with Oracle for finance department customers with IBM’s own financial performance management applications. Star Analytics gives IBM a means of fostering relationships with existing users of Hyperion applications and a more graceful migration path to using IBM’s financial, analytics and business intelligence software.
Finance organizations have been heavy users of Hyperion financial applications. While these applications are workhorses for important finance tasks, the information in their data stores has been difficult to access from outside of Hyperion environments. Larger companies often must try to knit together their complex applications and databases with hard-to-maintain custom integrations, or use spreadsheets to combine data from multiple sources. Since companies maintain a great deal of useful information, they wind up spending a considerable amount of time and effort working around accessibility issues. Star Analytics’ software helps companies make data much easier to integrate into financial information processes, enabling consolidated reporting and analytics that can accelerate the time it takes to assess overall financial results.
Larger companies that have significant, longstanding investments in Hyperion software often store a great deal of information in multidimensional databases (“cubes”) that serve as the foundation for their consolidation, reporting and planning software. These databases are extremely useful for analysis and reporting and are a considerable improvement over desktop spreadsheets for collaborative and repetitive tasks. Yet their utility is confined mainly to the needs of the finance department’s specific application because, in practice, it’s very difficult to extract the information contained in these databases into data warehouses accessible to the rest of the organization by using standard business intelligence (BI) tools. This is a serious ongoing problem. Today, to produce the kind of advanced analyses and reporting that generate deeper insight and more useful, effective business models, it is necessary to integrate financial and operational information. The operational data comes not only from a company’s ERP system but also supply chain and logistics systems, customer relationship management and other software that manages processes and tracks business performance. The finance department itself likely has multiple cubes in use, and the process of extracting data from them and synthesizing it into a report or analysis can be time-consuming.
To address these issues, Star Analytics developed the Star Integration Server so that companies that have Hyperion applications (Planning, Financial Management or custom-built software built on Essbase) can more easily extract information for wider use (say, in a company-wide data warehouse or financial data mart). All departments within a corporation can then use the data in their applications or analyses. They can create reports (using whatever reporting and analysis tools they currently use) that use this information in conjunction with operational data from other sources. Moreover, the software allows companies to bring together data from multiple cubes so that they can analyze and report on all of the information that is kept in these separate data stores. Finance departments in particular are able to consolidate and manage complex hierarchy structures in their cubes so that they can speed up processes such as business analyses, periodic reporting, forecasting and planning. The Integration Server also enables companies to pull out proprietary data structures, embedded calculations (such as allocations or ratio analyses), business rules (consolidation parameters), security protocols and supporting detail from Hyperion applications. The software can support the data volumes larger companies use, as well as ensure that data security protocols are observed. The Integration Server has native support for exporting to major relational databases such as IBM’s DB2, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL and Sybase.
The Star Command Center automates data movements, database consolidations and schedule-related processes, eliminating the need to devote IT resources to repetitive mechanical tasks. It is a far more comprehensive, flexible and easy-to-maintain alternative to the custom coding approach organizations often adopt to lash together their disparate applications and databases. It is designed for point-and-click simplicity so that it is usable by finance/IT-types, in contrast to other tools aimed at IT/data center professionals. The Command Center even enables integration between on-premises and cloud-based data sources, and can be accessed and operated via a mobile application.
Currently, most companies either extract information from their Oracle/Hyperion systems in a laborious and time-consuming fashion, or have consultants build custom solutions. Companies that use Oracle’s Financial Management, Planning, Enterprise or custom applications running on Essbase should make it easier to integrate data from these systems for broader business analytics purposes. Users of Star Analytics’ software can save considerable amounts of time in performing analyses and generating reports – in some cases going from days down to hours. This technology will help IBM enable its vision for finance that I outlined last year and help companies using Oracle to find value from existing investments. Since financial information is available quickly, the data can be used to do more rapid planning and analysis cycles or have management or financial reports available sooner. Moreover, unlocking financial and other information enables corporations to do more integrated business analysis, planning and reporting. Information that was once inaccessible can be readily available when it’s needed. Knowing more enables companies to do more.
Rob heads up the CFO and business research focusing on the intersection of information technology with the finance organization and business. The financial performance management (FPM) research agenda includes the application of IT to financial process optimization and collaborative systems; control systems and analytics; and advanced budgeting and planning.