Putting data to work

Putting data to work

Summary: It is not new technology, but business intelligence platforms are now understood well enough by customers to drive real business change. David Braue catches up with some BI trend-setters.

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It is not new technology, but business intelligence platforms are now understood well enough by customers to drive real business change. David Braue catches up with some BI trend-setters.


Contents
Introduction
From upstart to cornerstone
Paradise by the dashboard
Towards the future
10 ways to better BI
Case study: NT Police put on the map

With all the money that's been spent on getting better business systems, you'd think we would have a pretty good sense of what to do with business intelligence (BI) for now. Good information does not necessarily flow from good intentions, as Western Australian health, car, home, and travel insurer HBF learned to its considerable disappointment after an 18-month data warehouse project fell far short of expectations.

The problem was that by the time the project was complete, it was meeting old business requirements and was based on an old system that no longer reflected HBF's rapidly evolving business. It also failed to get critical user buy-in.

On top of this, managers lacked unity in regards to the system's purpose, and change was so difficult to engender that the whole idea ended up stagnating.

"Warehousing is in constant change," says Mark Pereira, manager for business information services with HBF. "If you're still providing the same models a year later, you're not doing it right."

The company's second attempt at introducing BI was much more successful, with access to the company's 1.5TB data warehouse expanded through the introduction of SAS Institute Enterprise Warehouse. Report writers offer a variety of pre-fabricated business reports and pre-built OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) cubes for low-end users, while 35 "power users" get direct access to the system to run ad hoc reports based on changing business need.

Just as important as what was set up the second time around, was how it was set up. The IT division's reputation had taken a battering when the first data warehouse project turned out to be a fizzer, so for the second installation, the IT team stepped back and let the business managers take over. A management steering committee was formed to get business managers to lead the project, and business and technical analysts were tasked with supporting their needs rather than driving the project on its own as they had done in the past.

That approach increased the project's credibility significantly, says Pereira. "The business has a preconceived idea that IT is expensive and slow in doing things," he explains. "We're now a business unit reporting to the general manager outside of IT. By us not being tied up with their process, we don't get bogged down with the core legacy system and just focus on where the business is going."

"By building the trust what we were doing was helping [managers] build their business a lot quicker. [Buy-in] snowballed from there. We don't go big bang, but go down to what is the biggest business itch at the moment -- then we make sure we're scratching that itch."

Now that the BI system is working properly, that focus has turned to areas such as data mining, which has helped HBF better understand common attributes of the many claims it handles. By analysing historical information, HBF is able to quickly pick up on anomalies -- such as a rapid increase in claims from a single provider -- and identify the cause.

The company has also been able to better segment its more than 870,000 members, whose activities and characteristics are now analysed to assess and minimise each member's risk of churning. An initial customer relationship management (CRM) project built around the legacy data warehouse failed, but the company is gearing up to give CRM another go. "BI has given HBF the ability to segment and understand our membership base," says Pereira. "It has changed the way we do benefits."

Topics: Big Data, Enterprise Software

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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