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How one firm chose MicroStrategy as its BI solution

How one firm chose MicroStrategy as its BI solution

By  Linda Tucci, Executive Editor

30 Dec 2008 | SearchCIO.com

When a Midwest media company decided to bring its customer database and all analytics back in-house, it bought a data warehouse from Teradata Corp. and launched a search for a business intelligence (BI) platform.

The company, Meredith Corp., publishes such well-known magazines as Ladies' Home Journal and Family Circle, as well as books, websites and 24 other magazines; it also owns a dozen TV stations. Six years ago, the company was outsourcing the analytics and reports for its main consumer database to Acxiom Corp. when it decided its vast data stores needed to be in-house. Its database includes more than 85 million names, according to Meredith's corporate mission statement.

Meredith needed a BI solution to provide marketing and circulation managers with timely, standardized and detailed information about their promotions, said Jose Lora, a BI solutions architect at Des Moines, Iowa-based Meredith. The existing system was made up of multiple heterogeneous databases that required intensive manual work to consolidate. The system was also inflexible and new reports required heavy support from IT resources. "In fact, there were analyses that were not possible because of the long time that it would take the staff just to put them together and because historical data was not available to the users due to the limitations of the existing system," Lora said.

Choosing a BI vendor

Which BI vendor to go with, however, invited more debate, said Lora, who is part of a 25-member BI team at Meredith. Lora oversees a team of five BI architects who focus on BI reporting. He had to advocate forcefully for the business intelligence platform from MicroStrategy Inc.

"It was not the cheapest tool in the market, and I believe it is still not the cheapest," Lora said.

MicroStrategy has both a desktop and a Web client version. Meredith uses the Web version for all its users in an effort to simplify deployment and management: The zero-footprint Web client works in all the browsers the company supports, Lora said. (Meredith has a large Mac user community.)

It didn't feel like a Frankenstein of many tools put together.

Jose Lora, BI solutions architect, Meredith Corp.

The company uses the desktop tool for the more advanced super users. Only 5% of its users have access to the desktop tool today.

But two attributes gave the MicroStrategy Web-based platform an edge over Business Objects SA and a Software as a Service offering from Cognos ULC, Lora said.

"The Web interface was really user-friendly. The users liked how powerful and flexible it was," he said.

Then there was the technical wow factor.

"From my side, I really liked the organic growth of MicroStrategy. It didn't feel like a Frankenstein of many tools put together. I liked how architecturally sound it was -- one single metadata repository! None of the other tools had that at that point."

MicroStrategy, certainly not the largest of BI vendors, also jibed with Meredith's predilection for best-of-breed tools, Lora said. The company, for example, recently started using Kxen Inc. analytics tools to speed up its development. It uses Hummingbird for extract, transform and load (ETL). Kxen might not be the "best-known tool, but it is the best for what we need," Lora said. Likewise, Hummingbird is the best ETL tool for the company's Teradata warehouse, he said.

Meredith bought its MicroStrategy Business Intelligence Platform back in 2003. Then came the hard part.

Find out what happened next in "Managing user adoption makes the most of a BI solution."