A balanced diet for the data-hungry

INFORMATION HAS always been central to business success, but the surge in computing power combined with the rapid drop in hardware and software prices have made data much easier to come by.

Or, rather, raw information is much more accessible. Company after company has established ominous-sounding "data warehouses" which, thanks to increasingly sophisticated information technology, collect all sorts of material from all corners of its operations.

But having this data is one thing and exploiting it quite another. Indeed, a survey indicated that senior executives put the ability to analyse information alongside the more familiar problems of the year 2000 and the introduction of the euro as one of the three key issues facing business.

It is for this reason that software has been developed which aims to make sense of the contents of what might be termed silos of information, and so assist companies in achieving the ultimate goal of gaining a competitive advantage over their rivals.

Hyperion Software, a US company, has been a leader in the field of enterprise- wide software for about as long as it has existed. But last week it raised the stakes by merging with another American company, Arbor, to exploit what it sees as a new "market space" for analytic applications.

Up until now, Hyperion - founded in California by a Scot and an Italian in 1981 - has provided the software for reporting, analysing, modelling and planning, while Arbor, a decade younger, has been the supplier of tools needed to do this work, particularly in the increasingly important area of on-line analytical processing.

By joining together to form a $375m (pounds 230m) turnover company with more than 1,800 employees, the managers claim to be serving customers who are increasingly obsessed with "knowledge management" through offering a one- stop shop.

Iain Kerr, who is returning to Britain after more than 20 years in the United States to run the European operation, emphasised that the world's largest companies could deal with the new organisation, named Hyperion Solutions, whether they wanted to build an analytical system or buy one.

All merger participants claim that they are doing the deals for the benefit of their customers rather than themselves, but Hyperion can point to a lot of support for the venture, both from users of its software and from organisations with which it has formed partnerships.

Representatives of such organisations as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter have been quoted as saying that the deal breaks new ground. The mass of data that Hyperion's 4,000-plus large companies have collected is now "ready to be turned into information", and the initiative reflects the increasing need for "decision-support tightly coupled with business processes and applications".

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