BI projects approached incrementally

Business intelligence software is finding a warmer reception in the enterprise, but customers still aren’t sure how they can get the biggest bang for their buck, and where IT fits into this scenario.

At one panel discussion during Information Builders Inc.’s (IBI) users’ conference in Chicago last month, two issues dominated: not only are business intelligence (BI) projects being driven by the business, not IT, and these projects being more successful when done incrementally.

“The temperature in the industry is what I call sub-90,” said Bob Moran, vice-president and managing director, data knowledge and analytics at the Boston-based Aberdeen Group. “They have to prove they can do it in incremental bits in under 90 days, and then get the approval for the next step.”

Andy Hanna, manager of report management and distribution at the Royal Bank in Montreal, agreed that this approach makes sense. He said most ROI is realized at the beginning of a project, making it easier to justify more implementations, and making that preferable to rolling out the whole solution at once.

“Build tactically, but think strategically,” Moran advised. “I don’t think you’re undermining yourself [by installing in increments] because you can prove the value and then proceed.”

Hanna agreed. “After it has been running for a while, the dust settles and you see advantages and other opportunities.”

The Royal Bank runs a Teradata data warehouse and uses IBI’s WebFocus 4.36 at the front end for reporting and WebFocus 5.2 Server on the bank end, and applies the solution to areas such as risk management.

For example, if an individual applies for a loan, but had several bounced cheques, the individual might be denied the loan. Using WebFocus, the bank can drill down into the person’s records and see whether or not the person’s bounced cheques were a result of irresponsibility, or perhaps because of a stolen chequebook. Without BI tools, the user would be have been denied loans in both cases, but now the bank can more readily identify risky customers.

This benefit was realized after the bank implemented WebFocus in order to access customers’ files that were previously kept on microfiche. If an employee needed to look up a person’s record, they had to scroll through oodles of microfiche in disparate locations to find the information. Now, the company can access these records in real-time and look at records going back six years, which allows them to more easily view patterns in a person’s banking behaviour and identify risky clients.

Hanna said the bank has saved a substantial amount of money as a result.

However, when it comes to kick-starting these projects it is business, not IT, that drives them.

“When you’re in a business group you have more access to business needs to develop the [BI] tool,” Hanna said, adding that IT’s role in these projects is to simply support the environment. However, the one bonus of business-driven projects for IT people is that by the time they filter down to the IT department, all costs have been approved. Thus, IT people don’t have to scramble to convince the corporate bigwigs their project is worthwhile.

Hanna handles financial reporting for the bank’s U.S. and Canadian dealings. With 10 years of experience working on the business side of the industry and the past 13 in IT, he says his skills are the perfect mix for someone taking on a BI project because he possesses the experience to understand both sides of the equation.

Other BI project recommendations came from Michael Corcoran, vice-president and chief communications officer of IBI in New York. At a separate seminar, Corcoran said companies need to include employees, management and their business partners in BI solutions, and that companies need to recognize applications that work with current data architectures. He said the centralization of data is crucial and warned to be careful not to build any unnecessary data warehouses, marts or cubes.

Corcoran also recommended that companies take into account who their users are and to understand their collaboration needs with others in their department, across business units, with customers and the public.

He also cautioned organizations to calculate scalability carefully and avoid purchasing any unnecessary servers and resulting server licences. The IT supporting the environment should be small, centralized and focused, he added Also, Corcoran advised users to stay away from Windows-based products, saying they do not scale nor perform batch processing well.

Further, he said potential buyers should avoid BI products that require personal information to be entered because they don’t scale well beyond 50 to 100 users.

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