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Business, IT collaboration drives new BI system at Toyota

System provides common view of six years of data

LOS ANGELES -- A recently implemented business intelligence project at Toyota Motors challenges a growing perception that IT organizations are no longer able to keep up with the BI demands of their business units.

The new Product Quality Analytics system is being used by Toyota's Technical Information & Diagnostics Group and was built largely in response to the crisis stemming from a massive product recall last year.

The system provides a common view of six years' worth of product and quality data from multiple internal systems across the company.

It allows Toyota's quality engineers to search through, drill down, mash up and analyze data from sources as disparate as its vehicle configuration system, customer call centers, warranty claims system, customer mediation group and service centers.

The system supports both structured and unstructured data, a search-engine like interface and filters that allow users to view product quality data in a manner that was not previously possible, said Tom Trisdale, manager of Toyota's Technical Information & Diagnostics Group. The group is part of Toyota's product quality and support organization.

"The great thing is, everything is available from one source," said Trisdale during a session detailing the project at the Gartner Business Intelligence conference held here this week.

"We can have results very quickly," ensuring significant productivity gains, he said. Importantly, the system allows its quality engineers to filter, visualize and explore multiple years' worth of quality data for patterns that they wouldn't even have known to look for previously.

The system was developed in partnership with Toyota's IT organization at a time when business groups in many companies are increasingly taking the lead on such efforts.

For instance, in a recent survey of 575 BI professionals by software vendor LogiXML, more than half said they were dissatisfied with IT's ability to deliver business intelligence functionality. More than one in four respondents said their organizations did not have the IT staff needed to deliver BI functionality.

In Toyota's case, a couple of factors contributed to the successful partnership, said Mike Burkes, manager of the auto maker's information management group. One was technology.

Toyota's IT group was able to deliver the BI system much faster than it would have been able to normally by taking advantage of technology from Endeca, Burkes said.

Endeca's software allows users to quickly and easily search for, view and analyze data from multiple enterprise data repositories. It allows users to design reports and dashboards in minutes using both structured and unstructured data from numerous sources.

The software can be implemented in a fraction of the time it would take to develop a BI system with similar capabilities -- a factor that has led to the explosive growth of companies such as Endeca and rivals such as QlikView.

In several cases, the ones deploying BI systems based on such technologies are the business units. Contrary to perception, IT is involved in a vast majority of such efforts, said Donald Farmer, former Microsoft BI guru and an advocate at QlikView.

However, in a growing number of cases, its role is more about providing and governing the data that feed BI systems, rather than building out the BI system, he said. "They have become the providers of information," rather than developers of BI systems, in a growing number of instances, he said.

In Toyota's case, the IT group was able to play a more direct role. Endeca's Latitude software allowed Toyota's IT department to deliver the BI capability that its quality group was looking for much more quickly than it would have been able to otherwise, Burkes said. "We have never delivered anything in less than 12 months," he said.

Another factor that contributed to the success of the project was the effort that both sides put into explaining and understanding business requirements, managing expectations and establishing trust, Burkes said.

Almost 45% of the time and budget on the project was also spent on improving data quality to ensure that the data being used by the BI system was as useful and consistent as possible.

"We were able to do this because we had both business and IT saying we want this," Burkes said.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .

Read more about bi and analytics in Computerworld's BI and Analytics Topic Center.

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