TD Meloche Monnex tries SAS BI for smarter decision-making

Canadian home and auto insurance provider, TD Meloche Monnex (TMM) seeks to use business intelligence (BI) technology to speed up executive decision making and enable users with limited technical skills to access metadata faster.

To this end, the firm is testing a server-based business intelligence (BI) software offering from Cary, NC-based SAS Institute Inc.

Buoyed by its earlier successes with SAS enterprise data mining and reporting tools, Montreal-based TD Meloche Monnex also seeks to harness SAS Enterprise BI Server to enhance reporting capabilities.

The insurance company’s goal is to rollout technology that enables executives to be more proactive and effective in evaluating information, according to Carl Lambert, vice-president, forecasting and business intelligence, Meloche Monnex.

“We want users to be able to create their reports without having to wait for researchers to track down and provide data for them.”

The insurance firm’s approach isn’t different from that adopted by most companies who have had experience with BI tools, according to a Canadian IT industry analyst.

“As BI technology matures and as companies gain confidence with the tools – they want to see how far they can push the envelope,” says George Goodall, analyst for Info-Tech Research Group Inc. in London, Ont.

Some three years ago, Meloche Monnex deployed the Base SAS software product for data integration across the organization.

Lambert said the application facilitated faster report generation by formatting and analyzing data regardless of what format it was in.

The product also provided flexibility since reports could be generated in standard office formats such as rich text format and portable document format and produced in a variety of markup languages, he added.

At the start of 2007, the Meloche Monnex began to eliminate manual reporting with the help of SAS Enterprise Miner, data mining tool.

“Previously most reporting was manually handled using Excel. However, the increasing amount of data has made this impossibly slow in recent years,” Lambert explained.

As the previous system has been overwhelmed by the data, it often took more than five minutes to open up a single report. Updating the company’s end-of-year reports consumed at least two months of the IT department’s time, Lambert said.

“The older system simply did not have the capability to run through all the data available at the speeds we needed.”

With the deployment of SAS Enterprise Miner early this year, Meloche Monnex has seen a marked improvement in its data mining capabilities.

Lambert said the application is able to zip through data sources at a faster rate and open reports almost instantly. There is also no longer any need to set aside time to consolidate yearly reports since files are consistently updated every day by the system.

“Data is our lifeline,” he noted. “We need fast access to it to forecasts and determine if marketing strategies are working or not so we can act quickly and accordingly.” Info-Tech’s Goodall says this is a common challenge for companies the size of Meloche Monnex. “Enterprise companies have amassed a daunting amount of data which they are now struggling with to create useful and detailed reports.”

He said reports are not only needed to facilitate better operations and client service offerings but are demanded by regulators for security and privacy compliance purposes as well.

Since the early 1990s, he said, a growing number of organizations have turned to BI tools to help them gather data from various computer hardware platforms.

BI tools “slice and dice” the information to provide “comprehensible information of such things as product preferences or geographic and demographic differences of campaign outcomes,” Goodall said.

Cognos, Business Objects, SAS and Oracle the acknowledged leaders in the BI market, however, Microsoft Inc, is quickly making a name for itself in the field as well, Goodall said.

He said SAS “has a good background in sophisticated analytics and risk profiling capabilities.”

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