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Business intelligence evolution

Business intelligence evolution

Business intelligence systems have evolved from being point solutions for specific departments to something that takes in all aspects of business

Business intelligence

Business intelligence

Australian CIOs may be thankful this year’s flu season was relatively sparing on their employees, but many have themselves become the source of another form of infection within their business.

For the Perth-based financial services company, Plan B Group Holdings, the implementation of a business intelligence dashboard for its corporate solutions group is providing easy-to-see business metrics relating to client value, and has other segments of the business calling for more.

Plan B uses a SaaS-based tool from MyDials, replacing some internally-developed systems where the cumbersome nature of data extraction had required a dedicated fulltime staff member. That person has since been redeployed. Head of technology, Pep Oliveri, says Plan B is now looking to MyDials for a wider implementation.

“We always knew we were going to have other parts of the business wanting to review the concept and model,” Oliveri says. “It’s the ability to get information in a fast and reliable fashion that they really want.

“Once you give that to the business, they really become enthusiastic and passionate about applying it to their particular departments and needs.”

According to Ian Bertram, managing vice-president and global business intelligence research team leader at analyst company Gartner, successful BI requires breaking down barriers of information ownership.

“From the top, there is this focus around using information as a competitive advantage,” Bertram says. “When people get over the ego of ‘information is power’, they realise that by sharing, it may create an even greater outcome. But that kind of mentality needs to permeate from the top.”

For the Victorian water utility Yarra Valley Water, business intelligence is an underlying technology assisting the entire organisation’s transformation to become what CIO, Max Kennedy, dubs a ‘right time’ utility. “One of our biggest complaints had been that getting access to data had been so time consuming,” Kennedy says.

“Our vision is if we can get the right information to the right people at the right time, our internal customer will be satisfied, and our external customers will be satisfied.” He also set about changing the existing paradigm of people spending 90 per cent of their time looking for the data and just 9 per cent of the time analysing that data in Excel or Access. Only 1 per cent of their time was spent making decisions. It has involved untangling bespoke internal systems in favour of an integrated SOA-based architecture on Oracle technology, and creating a defined information model based on industry standards, tailored for Yarra Valley Water. Kennedy says the first stage took place in 2007 with the implementation of business intelligence into Yarra Valley Water’s legacy financial system.

“It didn’t have a terribly good reporting tool, so we were faced with either upgrading to a Tier 1 product, or putting a business intelligence tool alongside it,” Kennedy says. The decision came down in favour of business intelligence. “It’s really given extra life to what is a Tier 2 finance system by giving us the ability to drill down on all our financial data through the BI tool. The finance group can customise all the reports for the organisation, and are able to build up all the different views of our profit and loss and costs centres, right down to invoices on particular charge codes.”

Next was replacement of the utility’s core billing system with Oracle’s Utilities Customer Care and Billing, followed by implementation of BI for customer data, and a new property information management system.

“That gave us our single source of truth for customer data, our billing data, and our metering data,” Kennedy says. “Our future plan is to put all our asset management into business intelligence over the next two years.”

He also says he is well on the way to reversing the decisionmaking paradigm within Yarra Valley Water.

“With the implementation of business intelligence, people spend 1 per cent of their time on finding the data, 9 per cent analysing it, and 90 per cent of their time thinking and making better decisions about it,” Kennedy says. “So it gives us the chance now to make better customer service decisions. It gives us opportunity to identify lost revenue from the data, and it gives us the chance to implement Web self-service.” Kennedy says usage levels have been met and customer satisfaction targets exceeded. He attributes the smooth running of the implementation to strong buy-in from within the business as well as from BI super-users.

“Change management and bringing users on the journey is very important, and having champions within the business [who] own BI for their business group is very important,” Kennedy says. “Having done it first in finance and having had somebody who could champion BI over three years was a master stroke.”

Gartner’s Bertram says it is these non-technological factors that are vital in the successful implementation of BI today. “The interesting thing for us around BI is around the competency and the skills, the stuff that is outside the technology,” Bertram says. “If they are using those tools for the right purpose and they are getting the results and they are making changes, then that’s fine. It’s the competencies internally and how they are willing to share information that are far more important than the actual technology itself.”

In many instances, this leads to the formation of a BI competency centre to break down siloed thinking around information ownership.

While Kennedy has not gone so far to create one at Yarra Valley Water, super-users in the different business groups have formed a BI community where they collaborate over ideas for reporting, use of BI and any changes required to the information model. “If one part of the business wants to add an information type, we coordinate it through our architectural review board,” Kennedy says. “And having a collaboration forum for sharing and for governance over the information and data models is also very important.”

Getting the information model right has also been critical to the success of BI at the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA). As the prudential regulator for Australia’s financial services industry, APRA collects 20,000 data elements including quarterly data from several thousand institutions.

APRA created its data warehouse four years ago, selecting MicroStrategy as its preferred BI tool. Up to two thirds of the organisation (about 400 users) now use BI, across a range of Web-based delivery reports and dashboards for monitoring specific businesses and industry trends.

APRA collects highly detailed financial information, such as the matrices of the industry’s foreign exchange holdings, along with unstructured information such as business plans and audit reports.

“In larger organisations there are some real challenges which are hard to address, such as trying to get the broader understanding of the data in the organisation so you can use it effectively,” says APRA CIO, Colin Cayless. “What we have done is consolidate all of our statistical information into one place. For the private sector, the big challenge is trying to bring that all together when there is not an immediate return on that sort of investment.

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Tags Plan BdataColin CaylessaprabiMax KennedyMicroStrategyOraclebusiness intelligence

More about ExcelGartnerGoogleMicrostrategy AustraliaOraclePlan BPrudentialSAP Australia

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