Companies looking to expand BI use by end users

Companies are manoeuvering more and more to use embedded business intelligence to help frontline workers make decisions that affect operations. But embedding BI data into the processes for these users often involves more cultural challenges than technical issues, said users during a panel discussion at Computerworld’s Business Intelligence Perspectives conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.Correlating Business Inteligence information into ‘actionable analytics’ allows customer service representatives to use data at their desktops to figure out how best to serve customers.Text

Alaska Airlines, for example, is marrying information gleaned from BI analysis on airplane utilization and time on the ground with customer survey results, said James Archuleta, director of customer relationship management at Seattle-based airline.

Correlating that information into “actionable analytics” allows customer service representatives to use data at their desktops to figure out how best to serve customers, he said. “Airlines are a commodity now; this is how we are differentiating our brand.”

American Republic Insurance Co. is embedding BI data into the processes used by its direct marketing sales force as they offer Medicare supplements to customers, said Wayne Dow, business systems manager of direct marketing at the Des Moines-based company. Users now have “one-click access” to as many as 400 million different rate combinations from competitors, he said.

Union Pacific Railroad is using BI metrics to tweak its rail operations to run more effectively, and it plans to begin using predictive modeling to correlate customer shipping needs with rail car capacity, said James Bell, general manager of operating services at the Omaha-based railroad.

Union Pacific has worked with experts in lean manufacturing principles to map out critical operations, including processing and maintaining rail cars. Injecting BI data from transactional systems into those processes has helped the railroad identify choke points that slow down operations — such as cars remaining in a terminal for 20 hours when only one hour of work was done to them.

But Bell noted that companies that rely more heavily on BI data to adjust operations can’t dismiss input from their own workers.

“You have to receive business intelligence from the front lines,” he said. “They will tell you where the issues are. You are to help them break down barriers … and take their issues to a higher court.”

Irving Tyler, vice president and CIO at Quaker Chemical Corp. in Conshohocken, Pa., noted that all users in his organization use BI tools to make decisions. But getting users to rely on that data is challenging if they don’t view the information as credible, he said.

“You have to spend time demonstrating that this information comes from this source [so] they can feel comfortable,” Tyler said.

Quaker also has established clear lines of data stewardship, tapping managers who “own” the data from the various steps of a process, he said. “If [workers] can put a credible face — a manager behind that [data] — they will adopt [BI] much more readily.”

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