Ainsworth offers glimpse of BI dashboard strategy

ORLANDO – Now that it has successfully reduced its volume of customer disputes by more than half through business intelligence software, Canadian engineering firm Ainsworth is about to let the same technology help employees achieve their annual bonus.

Ainsworth, which is based in Toronto but has 14 locations across the country, offers a range of services to the building management and construction sectors, including HVAC and energy management. At this week’s annual Information Builders Inc. (IBI) Summit, the firm was featured in one of the sessions as an example of a relatively new customer making good use of IBI’s WebFocus business intelligence (BI) product line.

According to Dave Lush, Ainsworth’s director of information systems, one of its key milestones to date since using WebFocus has been to bring more awareness to root causes around outstanding disputes between the company and its varied customers. Through the effective use of dashboards and presenting data, Lush said the list, which hadn’t changed much over time, was reduced by 60 per cent.

“Suddenly it was all visible to everybody,” he said. “It could have been something as simple as a missing PO. Well, that might be something where you have to change your process, but now at least we can see it.”

Ainsworth’s BI dashboards are also able to see how much an individual project has deviated in terms of profitability, and each project can be traced to the vice-president in charge of it in order to determine a course of action. This also helps senior management stay on top of any emerging issues, Lush said.

The company is now putting the finishing touches on a dashboard that will map out each employee’s status within the Ainsworth Incentive Plan (AIP), which includes not only bonus or commission information but their career development plan. “Part of that bonus may be based on revenue or margin, but they’ll also be able to track their individual goals,” he said.

Lush said Ainsworth began looking more seriously at BI because of the manual work involved compiling information for the firm’s management team. Ainsworth is a longstanding J.D. Edwards customer, but the static PDF reports from that product didn’t meet the firm’s needs, Lush said. Ainsworth later explored Crystal Reports and SPSS before encountering IBI at a Toronto User Group conference.

Despite the complexity of the work involved, Lush said IBI was able to help develop a proof-of-concept for its first dashboards in just three weeks. Since then, the company has started using WebFocus’s visualization features to see how its finances track from budget to actual billings.

Kevin Quinn, vice-president of sales support services at IBI, said Ainsworth is a great showcase for why dashboards have become so popular among BI users.

“Finally, we’ve able to give people only the things they want to see, so it’s relevant to them,” he said. “It’s like setting up your iGoogle page, in that you can customise it, except it’s information that can change your business.”

That concept has also informed the most recent version of WebFocus, version 8, which will include a new BI portal to better display actionable information. Lush said Ainsworth will likely upgrade from its current version, but hasn’t committed to a timeline yet.

Quinn noted that Ainsworth’s success may in part be attributed to the strong executive support the company has placed behind its BI initiatives. Lush said that the company has a WebFocus meeting every two weeks, which includes its president and CEO, to discuss how it will evolve its use of the product.

IBI’s Summit wraps up Thursday.

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