Business Intelligence: maximising data collation for end users

A New Zealand user's guide to Business Intelligence

At the tail-end of the global economic crisis the Business Intelligence (BI) market grew by 6.1 percent in 2009, according to IDC Research. The growth was fuelled largely by a 17.8 percent rise in BI software sales to the financial sector, as it adopted systems to reduce risk and combat fraud.

Gartner research shows CIOs view BI as a top-five priority for better decision making and improved operational efficiency, while Altis consulting services manager Devin Deen says although his customers have reduced their IT spend in the past two years, businesses have increased BI investment as the recession heightened the need for such investment.

With BI on the rise, what systems and applications does it encompass and who is deploying what in the local market?

What is BI?

There is no standard definition of BI, though IDC New Zealand senior market analyst Louise Francis groups BI into two categories — performance management tools and applications; and the data warehouse platform.

“Performance management tools and applications are composed of end-user BI tools and analytical applications that are prepackaged for specific business processor industry decision-making tasks, which is to say CRM, workforce and financial performance analytical applications.”

“End-user BI tools are split into two categories: Query, Reporting, Analysis Tools [QRA] being dashboards, production monitoring, ad hoc queries and so on; and Advanced Analytics, predictive analytics such as data mining and statistics,” she says.

Both forms are used, often in tandem, for different situations. Stand-alone BI tools are used to gain a single customer or enterprise view, whereas embedded BI tools are often business function specific.

Embedding components of the analytical functionality into operational applications is a growing trend. Companies here are starting to adopt Intelligent Process Automation (a combination of BI and Business Process Automation software) and empower front-line staff with better decision-making authority to increase revenue and cut costs.

“IDC has found that end users find traditional QRA applications, and applications aimed at specific functions in the enterprise, are the most useful. The user friendliness of these tools has added to the democratisation of information,” Francis says.

One example is the use of dashboards and automated alerts that can be used by non-technical managers to enhance the decision-making process. Such information was previously isolated on departmental PCs, but now systems can access the data in real-time, providing for effective and timely decisions.

Another area where organisations are integrating their BI capabilities is social networking information about their organisation. IDC has coined the term “socialytical applications”, which leverages social collaboration and analytical applications.

Yet, despite the acceptance and uptake of BI locally, IDC reports some issues can still inhibit successful implementations. BI requires a cultural mindset change and so business buy-in is essential. Implementation issues also include poor data quality and consistency, security and user rights management and integration of data from disparate systems.

To help combat this, a trend emerging here in BI appliances is to combine software with hardware. “This turnkey concept can be immensely appealing to the less technologically adept companies as they offer simple, cheap and rapid deployment compared with conventional installed software,” Francis says.

Another trend, according to Altis consulting services manager Devin Deen, is the use of data warehouse appliances. “The most expensive component of a large data warehouse is not the BI software but the amount of storage, so organisations are trying data warehouse appliances,” he says.

In addition, some BI vendors, such as Microstrategy, are anticipating the convergence of mobile technology and mobile intelligence to drive the development of software for use on smartphones (see more on page 16).

Computerworld surveyed the following 10 organisations on their BI deployments.

Accident Compensation Corporation

ACC acting information services manager Jane Hardy says the organisation is moving towards Oracle for its enterprise data warehouse, with Oracle BI to deliver information to its business users in an effort to leverage the organisation’s existing investment while delivering cost savings.

“We continue to improve and evolve our BI capability,” she says. “Recent improvements have meant that a group of staff who previously had access to some static data, can now access information in an interactive way. This means they can more easily monitor and manage ACC’s costs in a more proactive fashion.”

ACC began its Oracle standardisation in May and future plans include new capability for staff to have an interactive view of ACC objectives.

Auckland District Health Board

ICT and Business Applications manager Joanne Bos says the DHB uses SAP Business Objects, installing version XI in place of Crystal 7. A key advantage is that it allows users self service and visualisation tools. “It is very easy to use from a development perspective and development times are relatively short. Business Objects also allows for a catalogue metadata on objects and universes as well as reports, which was a key requirement for us,” Bos says.

The 2008 implementation was successful, but presented a learning curve for self-service users that was greater than forecast. The DHB plans to restructure its data warehouse to provide scalability and improve performance, and to introduce control charts for key performance indicator reporting and dashboards for visibility of key performance measures.

Blue Star

Executive general manager, business systems and technology Jill Cowling says Blue Star has consolidated its BI tools by the adoption of the Oracle BI Suite Enterprise Edition.

The integration allows Blue Star customers to access information at various locations.

Cowling says the system was installed in 2008 and the move was a steep learning curve for staff, but the company is pleased with the results.

“Blue Star has continued to develop dashboards, supported by detailed reports that provide our customers with immediate visibility of collateral inventory, expenditure and savings, campaign effectiveness and more recently sustainability reporting. We’ve also developed a number of internal analytical reports that we’ve used to benchmark performance of our many different business units, with the intention of leveraging this information to enhance our manufacturing and service capabilities,” she says.

“We want to use analytics to help us improve our decisions making, support our strategic thinking and gain competitive advantage.”

Capital and Coast District Health Board

The DHB also uses SAP Business Objects and the standalone BI solution feeds the data warehouse, along with other non-SAP core business systems.

Paul Quayle, the director, Decision Support, says end users like the presentation capability of the Xcelsius product, which the DHB uses for most of its scorecards and dashboards.

The 2008 implementation was not heavily used at first, but after support from SAP and its initial supplier, an expansion is planned. This will include an agreed suite of cascading, drillable dashboards, based loosely on the concept of the balanced scorecard, with a structure that mirrors the organisational structure.

Carter Holt Harvey

CHH Woodproducts uses SAP for both its data warehouse and ERP, plus Business Objects for end-user reporting.

BI manager Andrew Wills says SAP Business Objects was closer to meeting the business need of information, analysis and reporting across the CHH Building Supplies group.

The standalone system required little in the way of training for end users and gained quick acceptance when implemented in March 2009. It brought wide capability with the suite of products, from high-level, business-wide management reporting through to operational reporting.

“We have only just scratched the surface of utilising the product suite to its full potential and yet SAP continues to enhance the product suite. For example, mobility to iPhones or Business Explorer searching and so on. The real additional benefit to us is the opportunity to integrate with SAP BI and ERP,” Wills says.

CHH now plans to look at new capabilities from the toolset such as mobility, Sales Force effectiveness, Business Explorer and widgets. It will also start to explore utilising Xcelsius for corporate dashboards.

Dimond

Steel roofer Dimond uses Cognos 8.4 and Cognos planner in place of spreadsheets and pivot tables, which prevented real time and key performance indicator reporting.

Business-wide information can now be brought together onto one reporting platform. Cubes of information can be cut and sliced in the Analysis Studio and sales information can be downloaded for budgeting.

Commercial manager Robbie Shaw says there have been performance issues, such as matching hardware and software. With hindsight he would have better scoped reporting needs, as some reports offered little business value.

Dimond is developing a cost-to-serve model, looking at the economic benefits of individual customers, as well as developing daily dashboard reporting at all its branches.

Frucor

Frucor has completed an implementation of SAP Business Objects Data Federator, increasing the IS department’s agility when it comes to reporting business information to decision makers.

The Federator takes disparate data sources and enables business users to view this information as though it came from a single source.

BI team lead Corey Adams says a shift towards SAP in place of existing other tools, like Crystal, will allow Agile Development and a predominantly self-service model for users.

Frucor had been happy with its mix, but SAP acquiring Business Objects allowed a more elegant approach to meeting its BI needs.

“The Business Objects suite is a stand-alone offering and connects to a multitude of data sources. With the use of Data Federator, the other Business Objects tools can also now connect directly to SAP NetWeaver BI [the SAP Data Warehouse offering],” he says.

“We now have the ability to sit with our customers and produce a functional reporting feature in front of their eyes. We are able to make changes to the Data Federator project, incorporate those changes in the Universe, and send it to a web intelligence report, sometimes in a matter of minutes.

“This allows for instant feedback from our customers. We work together to get them the information they need, irrespective of whether it is a SAP source, our SQL data warehouse or a combination of sources,” he says. “Other benefits include lower complexity, reduced duplication [and infrastructure costs] less reliance on external resource and increased customer engagement.”

Data Federator was installed in March and Frucor now plans more use of the Business Objects web intelligence tool. The company will look more closely at new Business Objects releases to see where it can rationalise tools, especially in multi-dimensional analysis.

Loyalty New Zealand

Analytics manager Vince Morder says the organisation replaced Oracle with SAS for its BI application, because it wanted better data manipulation and more sophisticated analyses. Oracle was not user friendly for advanced statistics Morder claims, while saying that SAS has an established track record.

SAS integrates with Loyalty’s new Oracle-based data warehouse, sitting on top of its Oracle 11G system as the controlling interface.Tables are manipulated for analysis using Oracle and then pulled into SAS when they are a manageable size.

Ease of data manipulation is the best business benefit, along with the speed of analysis and user-friendly interfaces. SAS has also brought Loyalty standardisation and code sharing, helped by a use of Linux within the company.

“This has dramatically reduced the time it takes to perform operations and processes while delivering consistent, high quality outputs,” Morder says.

Implementation brought a few glitches and a greater team-based approach for coding and development would have helped.

“The next big steps with SAS will be to assist with real time, trigger-based marketing and offer increased advancements in analytics for our programme partners. SAS will also be used for our customer contact strategy,” Morder says.

Wairarapa District Health Board

Performance and analysis manager John Kirkup says the DHB uses Microsoft SQL server 2008 and Microsoft Sharepoint performance Point server for its BI, in place of a collection of Access databases and Excel spreadsheets.

The fragmented legacy reporting system made information management untenable for Ministry Of Health standards and a robust, cohesive and adaptable system was required.

“It was an end-to-end Microsoft ecosystem that allowed the team at Wairarapa DHB to begin transforming the reporting system, into one that allowed managers to access all the data they required from a single portal,” he says.

Unlike others, the system is not stand-alone, but rather a tightly integrated, custom-built reporting and performance management solution.

Kirkup says the DHB’s Project Fingertips allows one-stop-shop information access, rather than staff looking all over the place. Such time-savings also lead to cost savings, as well as better patient care.

The BI project began late 2008 with work completed by December 2009. The DHB will now bring human resource information into the data warehouse, going live this month.

Westpac NZ

The bank replaced a variety of reporting tools and methods with Microstrategy as a key reporting delivery component of its business architecture, which includes analytical tools, ETL and data warehouse technologies.

Westpac NZ head of portfolio analysis Cameron Howell, says Microstrategy capabilities, particularly dashboarding, allows the bank to source relevant, accurate and timely information for better decision making.

Howell says the Microstrategy deployment has been a victim of its own success, suffering performance issues as the number of users increased. The recent move to a 64-bit environment is expected to deliver significant performance improvements.

Looking back, Howell says the bank should have been more confident with its business investment, allowing for more aggressive infrastructure development.

Now it plans to sweat the asset. “We intend to use it to provide regular, repeatable reporting to as many users across the organisation as we can, for as many management reporting purposes as we can,” he says.

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