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Three New Zealand firms demonstrate how business intelligence tools are transforming operational data into insights

FMG: Quick response mechanismsLast year, insurance company Farmers Mutual Group (FMG) decided to complete the upgrade of its SAS business intelligence solution installed more than five years ago. The solution was put to the test in extreme circumstances when, as the first earthquake struck Canterbury at 4:35am on September 4, FMG made a concerted drive to pro-actively contact policy holders who might have been affected. Within two hours, FMG assessors were headed towards the area and, making use of its BI tool, the company was able to quickly identify who were the most at-risk policy holders. The national sales and service centre in Palmerston North was also supplied with contact details of every client who might have been impacted. In this extreme situation, as in routine sales reporting, SAS proved to be an invaluable tool for the company.FMG is currently using SAS in a two-fold way: For operational support, with weekly sales KPIs available to sales staff, and for the analysis of performance drivers. "We make OLAP cubes available to people for almost self-service exploration," says Craig Skett, FMG business information and analysis services manager. Skett says the solution is easily integrated with Microsoft Office and the only training necessary is "more about learning the data than the actual tool"."We made a conscious decision to make it a company-wide capability. We have one BI solution across the whole company," he says, adding that the company has realised "people don't access the system until it has information that they need".FMG is now using SAS to generate daily reports for Canterbury earthquake claims. "It makes it easier to monitor the progress of these claims." Business intelligence is "a vital part of any financial organisation," says Skett. "The more you can get out of the information you capture, the more advantage you'll have over your competitors."Despite believing the current solution is serving business needs, he says that "every BI manager has a list of 20 things they want to develop" at any time. His current list includes more sophisticated analytics and the integration of geo-spatial information. CallPlus: Additional advantageThe number eight wire mentality played a key role when CallPlus embarked on a business intelligence project.Adrian Dick, chief technology officer at the telecommunications company, traces the beginnings of the project to a year ago, when the company was discussing its objectives for the coming months. "A lot of them were about improving efficiency and improving the way the business operates," he says. "So the question was asked: how efficient are we at the moment?"Getting the answer requires a business intelligence system that can be used across the group. But getting the information to get these answers was not as straightforward because CallPlus, which includes the Slingshot internet provider, generates a huge amount of operational data that is stored in silos. "We produce millions of records every day here, from internet use to each individual phone call. They [transactions] might produce three records depending on what platform they are from," says Dick.At that time, Call Plus produced reports that were demand or request driven. "If you need to know about a problem, you have to request information on it rather than being able to browse through and see what is happening," he says. There was always a backlog of reports that were required and once reports were produced, they were obviously outdated. "It was really about users being able to browse key metrics of the business in real-time or in near real-time."Those were the business drivers behind the development of Nostro, which Dick and his team developed using existing database software, and integrated and supported by internal resources. "It is business intelligence on a budget. We didn't go out and throw tens of millions at a solution. We just invested in the resources to design it. It is the number eight fencing wire [thinking]," says Dick.Nostro has been recognised in the recent US-based CIO 100 Awards, making CallPlus the only local organisation to win this year. The awards recognise organisations across the globe for operational excellence and strategic excellence in IT.Dick says each of the general managers has their own interface of Nostro. "What it has done is take a complicated environment and present it in a summarised view to decision makers in near real time."A key benefit is the highlighting of trends that they were not aware of. For instance, he says, they have calling packs wherein a number of destinations are bundled together for certain dollars a month. "We weren't aware some of the destinations in a calling pack were losing us a lot of money, because it was bundled with a lot of destinations," he says. The system has also alerted them early on about fraudsters that may be using their customers' systems. Nostro sees a spike in the calls to a customer account and CallPlus can alert them this is happening, even before the customers are aware of it. Dick and his team are extending Nostro to another platform. They are working on making the system available on the iPad. Around seven executives, including the CEO and CFO, use the iPads for email and remote desktop. "At a slice, we are able to show them the key metrics of the business wherever they are," says Dick."It is all about the data, it is not all the formatting presentation, the colours of the graphs," says Dick. "When you start aggregating millions of records down, it is the exception which pops up [and] that is where you can get a lot of value."You see the data, warts and all. Without it, you don't have the visibility of what you are doing wrong and how you can improve. The benefits will come from areas you don't expect."Ceres Organics: Connecting the dotsFormed in 1982, Ceres Organics specialises in sourcing and supply of organic fresh and packaged food and beauty products. The business includes a retail outlet, online shops, plus a range of wholesale customers including Progressive Enterprises and Foodstuffs, and Farmers. The company installed its fully-integrated BI solution in September 2010.The general manager David Josephson says the great thing about having a BI suite is "the immediacy of information". "Before, you would have to pass it to an accountant to write a report and then send it back to you. Now everybody can access the information at any given time," he says. The BI tool helps the company analyse and track data each day and, in doing so in an immediate way, is directly related with an increase in productivity. "It also tracks how things are being done so we can change behaviours if necessary, rather than having to go back to fix things later."Ceres' previously had a legacy DOS solution that was limiting the growth, efficiency and profitability of the company, as it lacked a warehouse management system and included a high amount of manual processes. Koorb implemented Microsoft Dynamics AX and a range of plug in solutions that included wireless warehousing to address these issues. The result was what the company considers to be a fully integrated BI solution. Josephson says the system works "in a standard business intelligence set up and can be accessed on an ad hoc basis using Excel spreadsheets". "It gives us various snapshots of the business," he adds, as it is integrated for warehousing, inventory and reporting. "For example, the warehouse manager can at any time see how many sales orders are outstanding. At the same time, a person in an administrative role in the office can look at sales. It covers the whole range of business."


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