CI Funds boosts its BI

For CI Mutual Funds Inc. (CI Funds), a recent business intelligence (BI) project was a case of starting small and thinking big. The Toronto-based investment management company has more than two million clients, manages approximately $50 billion in assets and recently deployed a BI solution to improve client reporting.

CI Funds was previously using BI in some capacity but according to Scott Dewar, IT vice-president, client reporting and advisor services for CI Funds, a recent acquisition of financial planning firm Assante Corp. means CI Funds is now a manufacturer as well as a distributor of mutual funds. CI Funds needed to ramp up its BI capabilities as a result.

The firm is a Sun Microsystems Inc. and Sybase Inc. IT shop with the front-end consisting of a Java application. CI Funds employs more than 1,000, and with an IT staff of 25 (“We’re small but mighty,” Dewar said) the goal is to improve electronic and paper-based client reporting across the enterprise.

“We’ve got a couple of ideas to explore mapping,” Dewar said. “Why is this city selling a particular product more than another city?”

According to Dewar, businesses increasingly rely on BI tools to advance an old mantra and stay competitive. “It used to be ‘do more with less,’” he said. “Now it’s ‘do more, with less, more quickly.’”

The firm is using an analytics application from Business Objects SA (BO) but needed to build on this BI foundation. “The methods that we had for creating business intelligence reports and distributing them were just taking too long, too slow and we had a huge backlog,” Dewar said.

E-mail distribution of reports wasn’t effective. CI Funds wanted to implement a dashboard to allow senior executives to review, at a glance, the previous day’s business and to be able to drill down into relational data.

After completing a proof of concept, CI Funds decided to deploy a BI solution from New York-based analytics provider Information Builders Inc. (IBI). CI Funds is in the beginning phases of deploying version 5.3.3 of IBI’s WebFocus BI platform.

Currently the firm intends to roll out the BI application to a small pilot project of less than 10 users, with plans to eventually extend out to senior staff. “It’s an evolutionary process,” Dewar says of BI. “It is a process, not a project.” The Web-based tool will enable the sales staff to compile their own reports. It also integrates with the firm’s Sybase database.

CI Funds was particularly interested in the visual discovery BI capabilities of the WebFocus offering, Dewar said, which allow users to view detail and summary data from a variety of enterprise data sources as three-dimensional bar charts, data constellations or histograms. The tool also features scalable vector graphics (SVG) capabilities — users can create live dashboards from within Microsoft Corp.’s PowerPoint application and export them to a PDF.

“What IT doesn’t want to do is make the decisions,” Dewar said, adding that the goal is to roll out BI to areas outside of the sales and marketing staff. “We want to give (the business side) the data and the tools….It’s an information democracy.”

A recent report by Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. noted that the most successful BI projects are short and simple with an immediate ROI. According to Gartner, the combination of BI with a focus on improving business processes will be significant in delivering IT’s contribution to business growth in 2005 through 2008.

Dewar from CI Funds offered advice for firms looking at implementing BI tools. “Start small, let it get out there and then let it evolve.”

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