Excellence Awards: Digesting data by the gigabyte

The intelligent use of data warehouses and mining the information kept inside them is germane to the achievements of the finalists in the "use of IT to support business intelligence" category of the Computerworld Excellence Awards.

The intelligent use of data warehouses and mining the information kept inside them is germane to the achievements of the finalists in the “use of IT to support business intelligence” category of the Computerworld Excellence Awards.

During its evolution over the past two years, dairy giant Fonterra went through the process of integrating and improving 18 disparate systems of its predecessor companies, the New Zealand Dairy Group, Kiwi Dairies and the NZ Dairy Board.

Enhancements to the data warehouse in the ingredients-operations division now permit the weekly production of reports based on key performance indicators, supported by data from core repository systems, allowing further analytical reporting.

Performance manager Chris Rowe says the data warehouse gives the company solid management support.

“We can take huge volumes of transactional data and use it to support our performance reports and decision making.”

It also means detailed performance reports can be produced without a great deal of human intervention.

“There is no Monday morning scramble to produce reports as the information is there,” Rowe says.

The operations data warehouse uses an Oracle database that stores 220GB of data. It provides tables and interfaces from 20 disparate transaction systems, and allows for a range of reporting tool sets. Fonterra says the enterprise-wide warehouse is scalable, flexible and application-neutral. The system platforms are mostly Oracle, but also include Jade, Lotus Notes and RMS.

Key strategic themes for the project were cost, quality, yields and losses analysis, reliability and throughput, legal compliance and health and safety.

Development and testing last year took 12 weeks and the project was on time and within its (undisclosed) budget. The new system has 1300 users across 23 manufacturing sites nationwide.

Nationwide law firm Simpson Grierson uses web-based EIS (executive information system) “dashboards” in its bid to boost the reporting and management of the organisation.

The dashboards were developed by Auckland firm DNA Dashboards. A server from DNA manages the workflow and business intelligence. An “artificial intelligence” code engine developed by DNA is claimed to have reduced development time by 70%. The system combines ASP, COM+ and other database mechanisms with .Net compliancy built into the core systems.

The key performance indicators sought include debtor management, work in progress, billing efficiency and revenue versus budget tracking. Drill-down options allow more detailed information, giving Simpson Grierson the ability to assess individuals, workgroups or entire departments.

Simpson Grierson says lawyers and managers use the tool daily, debts are at an all-time low and billing efficiency has improved. Moreover, it says, the project paid for itself within three months.

The dashboards also play a major role in supporting new company structures and give more meaningful and up-to-date financial and performance reports that relate to these new structures. Consequently, these reports have also led to staff to improve their business focus, the company says.

The ASB Bank says it is using a data warehouse to improve customer service and, in the process, profitability.

Over the past 10 years the bank has created what it calls a “friendly one-to-one customer information system” (FOCIS). Its warehouse brings together data from 24 separate systems into a single, unified view. It can hold 650GB of data, or one billion rows. Usage is increasing annually by 30%. Both daily and monthly business “snapshots” can be provided to users, with data processed averaging 800,000 customers, 2.8 million accounts and 50 million transactions every month.

Technology and operations group general manager Clayton Wakefield says FOCIS allows ASB to concentrate on the services customers are using and could potentially use in the future.

"Every interaction is captured and then analysed by different parts of the business so the bank can understand what customers want in future.”

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