BI for frontline workers

Business Intelligence is now being used by customer-facing staff - not just managers

Business Intelligence is one of the biggest growth areas in IT, as organisations are increasingly using embedded BI to help frontline workers make decisions that affect operations.

However, embedding BI data into those users’ processes often involves cultural challenges rather than addressing any technical issues, users at a panel discussion said at a recent Business Intelligence Perspectives conference organised by Computerworld US.

An example is Alaska Airlines, which is marrying information gleaned from BI analysis on aircraft utilisation and time on the ground with customer survey results, says James Archuleta, director of CRM at the airline. Correlating that information into “actionable analytics” allows customer service representatives to use data at their desktops to figure out how best to serve customers, he says.

“Airlines are a commodity now — this is how we are differentiating our brand,” says Archuleta.

American Republic Insurance is embedding BI data into the processes used by its direct marketing sales force when they offer Medicare supplements to customers, says Wayne Dow, business systems manager of direct marketing at the company.

Union Pacific Railroad is using BI metrics to tweak its rail operations to run more effectively and plans to begin using predictive modelling to correlate customer shipping needs with rail car capacity, says James Bell, general manager of operating services at the company. Union Pacific has worked with experts in lean manufacturing principles to map out critical operations, including processing and maintaining rail cars. Injecting BI data from transactional systems into these processes has helped it identify choke points that slow down operations. One example that was pinpointed by the BI project is rail cars remaining in a terminal for 20 hours when only one hour of work was done to them.

However, Bell notes that companies which rely more heavily on BI data to adjust operations can’t dismiss input from their own workers.

“You have to receive business intelligence from the front lines,” he says. “They will tell you where the issues are. You are to help them break down barriers ... and take their issues to a higher court.”

Irving Tyler, vice president and CIO at Quaker Chemical, noted that all users in his organisation use BI tools to make decisions. But, getting users to rely on that data is challenging if they don’t view the information as credible, he says.

“You have to spend time demonstrating that this information comes from this source [so] they can feel comfortable,” Tyler says.

Quaker has also established clear lines of data stewardship, tapping managers who ‘own’ the data from the various steps of a process, he says.

“If [staff] can put a credible face — a manager — behind that [data], they will adopt [BI] much more readily.”

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