New BI Practices Yield Big Payoffs

An insurer says 'new analytics' tools helped it save $10 million in project costs and reduce its ranks of outside contractors by 25%.

A number of companies are reporting dramatic payoffs from what analysts say have been radical changes in their business intelligence and data analysis practices.

The IT operations at health insurer CareFirst, advertising firm The CementBloc and other enterprises have embraced what consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers calls "new analytics" -- a term that refers to the practice of providing business users with access to next-generation BI reporting and data analytics tools.

In a report, PwC said the new BI practices are "about detecting opportunities and threats you hadn't anticipated, or finding people you didn't know existed who could be your next customers."

The "old analytics" approach, still in widespread use, depends on centralized, top-down data collection, reporting and analysis.

In the traditional process, analysts develop a set of questions and then wait for IT to aggregate and cleanse the relevant data and build paths between data elements to enable analysis, said Carol Church, director of the project management office at CareFirst.

Since CareFirst installed a new self-service BI platform two years ago, users now have real-time access to project data and other resources. Questions posed on the spot can be analyzed in near-real time -- a fraction of the time it would take to get answers using IT-centric BI systems, Church said.

Tasks that once took up to 18 months now take less than two days, she said. Moreover, the project management office no longer depends on centralized analytics teams to run BI reports.

The system is based on QlikTech's QlikView analytics technology, which the insurer installed as a supplement to a CA project management system. Church said QlikView helped CareFirst save $10 million in project costs and enabled it to cut the number of outside contractors it uses by 25% over two years.

At The CementBloc, employees are using newly installed Spotfire data analytics tools from Tibco to explore big and diverse data sets at will and find relationships between data elements they didn't know existed, said Ira Haimowitz, the firm's executive vice president of intelligence and analytics.

Spotfire's in-memory database technology and its search and data visualization capabilities eliminate steps that were required with traditional BI technology, such as listing queries "by customer segment, or by geography, and [then] mapping that out to a program, and then generating queries and reports," Haimowitz said.

The move to new analytics tools is driven by an explosion of data that has accompanied the emergence of cloud computing, mobile computing and social media. Analysts also point out that there's been a steady increase in the number of tools that can easily aggregate and analyze large data sets.

The tools are coming from traditional IT vendors, such as IBM, Teradata, Tibco and SAS, as well as BI-focused companies like QlikTech and newcomers like Birst, Tableau and Splunk.

The new analytics systems can provide "more and more ways to capture, move, scrub and analyze data," said Bill Abbott, a PwC principal specializing in applied analytics.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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