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Posted: 10/10/2013
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SNCF (ICF) ICF Habitat updates its business intelligence architecture with SQL Server, backed by Microsoft Consulting Services

Having an essential business intelligence architecture for its activities, which needed to be updated, ICF Habitat migrated its existing system to Microsoft SQL Server solutions, through Microsoft Services. More powerful and better suited to ICF Habitat’s needs, the new architecture offers the scalability the group requires.

“Microsoft’s highly involved consultants demonstrated professionalism, thoroughness in their project management, and a clear understanding of our needs, which were instrumental to the success of the project.”

Business Needs

As the fourth largest social housing operator in France, ICF Habitat has had a business intelligence architecture in place for 10 years. Forced to undergo a costly migration to a new version that was not fully compatible with the previous version, Philippe Nieuwjaer, the IT Director, decided to evaluate what was available on the market: “Our goal was to avoid resorting to the usual MO by migrating to a new version without looking at alternatives.” After studying seven alternatives, using a scaled model, the group finally decided to go with a solution based on Microsoft tools: SQL Server 2008 R2, Excel 2010, and SharePoint 2010, along with special development provided by Team Foundation Server (TFS).

Horizontal Migration before Scaling

Critical and very much in demand, ICF Habitat’s business intelligence architecture meets the major requirements for managing its inventory of 100,000 housing units: what properties exist, who lives there, what is the rent, etc. The system also performs calculations by sorting and filtering data, and can even carry out cross-analysis, adding key criteria. Used by about 350 people, the solution provides operational reporting on property management, finance, and HR; and the capacity to produce tenant lists with detailed information (living space, expenses, partner type, tax credit beneficiaries, etc.). This very rich architecture had the equivalent of eight cubes (concatenation of homogeneous information) and supported over 500 possible reports. Supporting about 20 data streams from business applications, its information center contained 500 GB of data on servers running SQL Server 2000.

Initially, ICF Habitat wanted to replicate this infrastructure, optimizing response times and adding new queries, in order to improve the analyses conducted by its employees.

Starting in March 2010, the first phase of the project would prove to be a difficult one. At the end of 2010, just one of the eight cubes had been migrated. Nieuwjaer described the result as nothing short of catastrophic. “Our supplier was simply not up to the challenge. Response times were too long, the machines were inadequate, etc.”


Microsoft Consulting Services took over the project in May 2011. To make up for lost time and to achieve a working solution by January 2012, ICF Habitat dealt with its most urgent priorities by migrating with an equivalent structure.

High quality support through listening and professionalism

“Microsoft’s technical solution provided many advantages. The comprehensive and integrated solution uses Excel, a tool that most users have already mastered, leading to greater buy-in by users. It is also less expensive; however, what impressed us most by far was the support from the teams at Microsoft,” says Nieuwjaer. “After our first experience, we were slightly leery. They understood our situation very well, and did everything to ensure the project was successful, both in terms of listening and of technical expertise. They quickly took in our management rules, and worked on-site in order to be able to work directly with our teams. This proximity played a tremendous role in the success of the project. As a result, we were very quickly reassured.”

After a system audit phase following the end of the first project, Microsoft’s teams resumed migration of the cubes by significantly adapting the system. As Mathias Ekizian of Microsoft Services states, “Even with an equivalent structure, migrating between two environments that do not necessarily share the same BI vision requires careful planning in terms of how to address a functional need while also taking technical constraints into account.” The cubes received input from SSIS streams on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on the frequency of updates from the information center, which was also migrated to SQL Server 2008 R2.

The Microsoft team also switched over 200 reports used by ICF Habitat, while being extra careful to maintain the interfaces intact so as not to disrupt users. They are distributed via SharePoint, which automatically filters data according to the user’s profile. At the same time, a customized Drill Through (a mechanism allowing the user to view information details), using SQL Server Analysis System and accessible from Excel, was put into place for advanced users. Finally, Microsoft consultants actively participated in setting up training for employees that would be interfacing with the technology. The reassurance they provided played a major role in the project’s acceptance.

Benefits An efficient and scalable platform

Operational on time, the new BI infrastructure was a clear success, especially in terms of performance, demonstrating 30% better performance than the former architecture. Having previously depended on IT teams to create new reports, users could now create reports on their own, allowing much easier analysis. With regard to IT, Nieuwjaer is also happy to have a choice that opens up a lot of scalability options: “Through ongoing knowledge transfer, Microsoft Consulting Services helped us to realize the potential of our new infrastructure. We plan to enhance our BI by creating new dashboards, for example. But we also plan to apply the potential of SharePoint and TFS in new areas. And generally speaking, we learned a lot from our interaction with Microsoft’s teams, and we will make the most of the knowledge we gained.”

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview

Organization Size: 2000 employees

Organization Profile

ICF Habitat is a holding company comprised of four social housing companies (ESH) that bring partners and residents closer through a network of 26 branches and an open market subsidiary, ICF Habitat Novedis. ICF Habitat manages more than 100,000 housing units occupied by more than 250,000 people.

Software and Services
  • Microsoft Consulting Services
  • Microsoft Excel 2010
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2

Vertical Industries
Other Services


Business Need
Business Intelligence and Reporting