Building an intelligent business platform

Two years ago, CA launched an applications division, InterBiz, to develop technology at the application layer. As can be expected, the new applications leverage heavily on CA's traditional strengths. The strategy seems to have worked, as one InterBiz customer testify.

When Tony Hayes, director of information management and technology for Places for People , UK, first put the company’s contractor information through a BizWorks system for a trial run, he could hardly believe his eyes.

Red buttons signaling warnings were lit all over the management console of the interface. The engineers turned to him and asked if he had given them bummed data for the test.

The data were authentic, and Hayes has got a big problem on his hands.

“Internally, we knew all along that something was wrong, but there was no way of getting at it,” said the director in a heavy English accent, “now it’s all out in the open.”

Automating business practices can reveal a lot more than you bargain for and figures don’t lie.

Released April last year, the BizWorks suite was the first major offering produced by Computer Associate’s applications division, InterBiz. CA created the unit in early 1999 to spearhead the company’s drive into the field of providing e-business applications.

Being the first major product - and continuing today as the division’s flagship offering - BizWorks represented a transition in CA’s role as a solutions provider.

“Until InterBiz came along, CA’s role has been in providing ERP, and back-office systems integration,” noted Gary Layton, InterBiz’s vice president for marketing, at this year’s CA World. “InterBiz changed all that by adding the business processes component.”

InterBiz technology, however, remained solidly CA. The strategy has been to develop applications that are relevant to business operations by building on CA’s conventional strength in information integration and business intelligence. The BizWorks suite, as a matter of fact, had at first been marketed as an “e-business intelligence suite.”

The marketing positioning has since moved away from intelligence to business processes, but the underlying technology remains the same.

“Absolutely, it is an intelligence tool, people buy it to integrate their information asset, they begin to derive value from it by the way they can visualize and tell them what’s going on in their business,” said Layton. “Our challenge has been that it has so many different aspects, it manages processes, it integrates data, it predicts … you can conceivably place it in any one of those categories because it essentially exists in a place where there is no defined category today.”

Information integration and intelligence applications were precisely the fundamentals that Hayes was looking for when he was approached by InterBiz sales.

Places for People (NBH) owns and operates 50 000 units of housing across the United Kingdom and doles out about 37 million English pounds a year to contractors for maintenance jobs done on their properties.

The problem was: it took NBH two months to analyze and collate the information they have on those jobs. It’ll be another month for a manager to get involve and sort the issues out when a contractor under-performs. By the time NBH is done getting the contractor online, the customer would have suffered 3 months of bad performance.

The proof-of-concept run that Hayes conducted with the initial BizWork system had been precisely to find out the number of jobs that the organization needed to pay close attention to. The answer was overwhelming.

“One of the things that I’ve found as an IT director over the years is that legacy systems and so forth are very good at what they do,” said Hayes. “The hardest part from the manager’s point of view is getting information that’s in the right context, at the right time to allow them to make an informed decision about something that affect their business.”

BizWorks implementation comes with a standard set of key performance indicators, but a wizard is included in the application for users to build their own key performance indicators.

At the back end, BizWorks uses a wrapper technique to wrap around data in legacy systems, databases, applications and expose those sets of information to BizWorks through BizWorks’ own information model.

The result, according to Layton, was integrated information and the ability to deliver real-time information to end-user in a defined context.

Real time information was crucial for Hayes, who had wanted a system that will help him plug the holes in his organization’s operation.

“What it (BizWorks) does is it allows us to apply a best practice benchmark only once across the organization, and then the rest of the organization is measured against the same set of business rules,” explained Hayes. “(When something is wrong,) you can’t hide it any more, you can’t bury it under something else.”

NBH began implementing the BizWorks solution six months ago. In that time, the company has eliminated 3 levels of management, vacated 11 positions from the main-board and restructured the whole reporting and information dissemination process.

Administrative personnel who were responsible for collecting contractor information were retrained and moved to technical and housing services division.

By Hayes estimation, the company would have saved over 2 million pounds by the third year of the system’s implementation. In the first six months alone, Hayes confided, the company has already hit 35% of the 2 million pounds target.

Vendor management efficiency has been improved by 55-60%, Hayes estimates.

“Culturally, it has been difficult,” said Hayes, “everyone gives lip service to empowering people, but when it comes to giving information to the workers, managers often bulked at that and ask: why do they need so much information?”

“Normally, the people who actually go and correct mistakes and make us work well are the ones who are at the bottom of the triangle, what we’ve done is we’ve inverted the triangle.”

At the rate NBH is going, according to Hayes, there is no end to what the organization may want to do with the BizWorks implementation. A semi-formal steering committee is already in place to deliberate on additional services and requests. Going forward, Hayes can see the platform expanding to include mobile access to portal information, full procurement capability, and management of other branches of NBH’s operation.

This is not a surprise to InterBiz’s Layton, the strategy of building business apps upon CA’s core technology seems to have paid off.

“People who have implemented this solution have not found an end to the things they want to do with it,” said Layton. “Each new systems you introduced, you introduce ideas for 3 more… It seems to be a never-ending project.”

For a pop of a basic InterBiz BizWorks solution: software licensing begins at US$125 000, service engagement for the first year is also priced at US$125 000, and implementation is conducted within a 90 to 120 days window.

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