Expanding BI use brings new set of challenges

As business intelligence apps are rolled out further, integration issues are emerging

Business intelligence technology is evolving from a tactical tool into a strategic asset to bolster enterprise operations for many companies. But making that shift means a hefty investment in gaining user buy-in and linking back-end systems, according to a panel of users who spoke recently at the Business Objects Insight Americas 2006 conference.

Jim Young, director of the information services group at Allstate Insurance Company in Illinois, says his company has 33,000 users of Business Objects tools who rely on the software to detect and analyse fraud, determine prices, process claims and manage Allstate’s adjuster workforce. For example, during hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, Allstate used BI to understand where claims were coming from so it could quickly get adjusters to customers, he says.

Now, it aims to identify all of the potential contact points with customers and put BI data into the business processes of the employees who work with customers, he says.

“We’ve got the data, [and] we need to mine that data and get it into the hands of people who can make some good decisions about how to cross-sell our products,” Young says. “Historically, we have done a great job of implementing BI somewhat tactically. Now, the opportunity is to start to bring together data from all the disparate parts of the company.”

Douglas Chambers, administrator of the Office of IT Applications in the Georgia Department of Transportation, says his agency has 200 people now using Business Objects dashboards to monitor projects in progress. During the first part of next year, he says, the department will roll out the dashboards to an additional 2,500 users.

“The dashboards allow upper management to drill down and see if a project is in trouble,” Chambers says. “They can see exactly what is holding that project up.”

“[BI] has made the folks at the DOT much more aware of how ... they directly affect those projects being delivered,” he says.

Jonathan Rothman, director of data management at Emergency Medical Associates, says his company — a group practice of 250 emergency room physicians — began using BI tools after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The company uses BI to identify potential disease outbreaks based on the symptoms of patients who come in to various emergency departments.

“Without BI, we couldn’t have done it — there would have been no way,” he says.

Nicholas Berg, senior manager of global business intelligence at Seagate, says his company has three separate global production versions of Business Objects software in place now —including a system used at Maxtor, which Seagate acquired in May — that it plans to integrate next year.

Berg says using Business Objects XI Release 2 — the company’s newest BI tool set, which ties together its reporting and analysis software — allows users to more easily access self-service data because the user interface looks the same for the different tools.

However, he adds that because the company has a diverse user-base which includes both power users and novices, Seagate would like to see Business Objects offer more guided analysis tools. “We need some more tools we can provide to that user who doesn’t know what the next step is ... to be able to guide them through to some recommended actions,” he says.

Allstate, Young says, put together a roadshow to garner buy-in from key ICT and business users.

“We needed to make sure there weren’t other initiatives going on in the company that would be derailed by our project,” he says. “We started to bring in key contacts from different development groups and negotiate time-lines.”

However, he says the company is still grappling with data-integration challenges.

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