REDMOND, Wash., May 9, 2007 -- Sure, you dislike automated telephone support lines—but possibly not as much as Ron Van Zanten did.
Van Zanten’s antipathy was directed at one line in particular: that of his employer, Premier Bankcard, one of the nation’s leading credit card providers, with more than 3.7 million customers nationwide.
Premier Bankcard is known for some of the highest service levels in the industry, but that wasn’t enough for Van Zanten, and the rest of the company’s business intelligence team. Every second that customers spent navigating the automated line was time that their needs weren’t being met, their satisfaction was sagging, and the company’s phone bill was rising. Moreover, frustrated customers would abandon their calls or switch to the automated line to speak with a customer service representative—an expensive form of support. For the sake of both the customers and the company, the Premier Bankcard BI team wanted to help their colleagues fix the automated line—but how? Premier Bankcard lacked the tools to analyze the hundreds of thousands of calls it received each day.
And it wasn’t alone. Major corporations everywhere are finding that their traditional business intelligence tools, adopted years ago, aren’t up to today’s demands. For example, Skanska, the US$19 billion a year international construction firm, used an expensive business intelligence tool, Hyperion—but found that it didn’t fit well with the rest of the company’s technology infrastructure. It was difficult to learn and use, which drove up training costs. And it was expensive to license, which limited its use to a relatively small number of employees.
Similarly, Energizer Holdings—the famous maker of batteries, flashlights, and, through its Schick and Wilkinson Sword brands, wet shaving products—found that it couldn’t conduct annual sales forecasting and planning quickly and accurately with the highly decentralized and manual system that had sufficed when the company was much smaller.
But you won’t find the Premier Bankcard BI team and their counterparts at Skanska and Energizer long-faced about any of this. That’s because each company is on the forefront of a sea-change in the way large enterprises manage their business intelligence needs. They are among the growing number of Global 2000 corporations that are eschewing decentralized, manual systems or costly niche solutions that are expensive to buy and maintain and difficult to use, in favor of end-to-end solutions that integrate with their existing technology investments, that are cost-effective enough to be rolled out to thousands of employees, and that can scale to support continued growth. Those solutions are based on Microsoft business intelligence.
At Premier Bankcard, the former system has been replaced by a unified data warehouse based on Microsoft SQL Server 2005 database software that uses Microsoft business intelligence tools to gather data from a variety of sources, including a service bureau’s mainframe, XML files from credit bureaus, and UNIX-based data from other service providers. The new solution conducts online analysis processing using SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services; enables deep, on-the-fly, drill-downs into the data using Microsoft ProClarity Analytics Server; and provides analysis to 3,000 employees through 4,000 customized reports maintained using SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services.
Changing the Culture at Premier Bankcard
Premier Bankcard employees use their spreadsheet software—Microsoft Office Excel 2007—to perform rich what-if analyses, rather than to maintain redundant silos of data, as before. Moreover, analysts who formerly spent up to seven hours of each day managing their data now are freed to conduct deeper, more insightful analyses and make competitive decisions based on those insights.
Van Zanten and his colleagues are making the most of their new business intelligence tools. Monthly accounting, which used to take two weeks to close, now closes in a day. “It’s changed the culture here,” says Van Zanten. “We no longer wait for information. Everything we do is on an accelerated basis, a compressed basis. We can staff up in time to meet peaks in demand, because we see those peaks weeks sooner than we would have before. We’re simply more agile.”
Premier Bankcard gains these greater capabilities without a greater price tag. By choosing Microsoft business intelligence software, Van Zanten estimates that the company saved $1 million, a 50 percent reduction over the cost of an Oracle-based alternative, and $2 million over the cost of another UNIX-based alternative. The savings comes in not having to buy UNIX hardware, hire specialized consultants, or pay high per-user software licensing fees. No significant investments in additional hardware or software were required because Microsoft Business Intelligence is an end-to-end solution, and Premier Bankcard already had key components of the solution—SQL Server and Office Excel—as part of its pre-existing enterprise agreement with Microsoft.
Premier Bankcard's data requirements are heavy—each day, the database grows by 12 gigabytes and adds 1.2 million financial and non-financial transactions—but Van Zanten says Microsoft business intelligence is up to the challenge. “Based on our tests, we know that our Microsoft business intelligence solution can handle three to four times the load we’re currently placing on it,” he says. “From an IT standpoint, we’re ready to handle anything the business side throws at us.”
Business Intelligence for Every Individual at Skanska
That’s also the feeling at Skanska, the international construction firm.
“We believe that business intelligence is for every individual in the organization because every individual needs to be able to make better, more informed decisions,” says Alan Emerick, director of IT at Skanska. “Microsoft business intelligence allows us to do that—and we have 2,000 employees using the solution. We expect to expand that to most of our 4,000 employees. We could never have done that with Hyperion.”
Skanska puts that broad access to business intelligence to special use. Field personnel at construction job sites around the world use Microsoft business intelligence on their Internet-enabled laptops to make on-the-spot decisions that can have a major impact on profits in the low-margin construction business. “Making better decisions faster means tens of millions of dollars to us over the course of a year, no question,” says Emerick.
Emerick estimates that extending Hyperion to 2,000 employees would have cost Skanska $7 million. The Microsoft business intelligence solution cost the company less than 20 percent of that. Like Premier Bankcard, Skanska deploys Microsoft Business Intelligence as an end-to-end solution, including SQL Server and its associated analysis and reporting services. Users access reports through Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, view key performance indicators (KPIs) through Microsoft business scorecards, and further analyze their data through ProClarity Analytics Server and Office Excel.
And Skanska isn’t stopping there. It’s now testing a prerelease version of Microsoft’s most recent investment in its business intelligence offering, Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007. A highly integrated performance management application that works with SQL Server and Microsoft Office, Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 enables corporations to plan, budget, forecast, analyze, and scorecard results and make critical business decisions based on reliable data from all aspects of the company.
“We want to use Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 for project teams to forecast general conditions, labor needs, project revenues, and more, all feeding up into the corporate forecast,” says Emerick. “It will cut our forecasting time even more, by as much as 75 percent, enabling us to see—and act on—trends even faster.”
Taming the Data Explosion at Energizer
The sheer volume of data it had to manage—sales data on more than 2,300 product lines and 6,500 active customers in 20 countries, leading to 13 million possible forecast entries—was one challenge facing Energizer. Its patchwork of data applications and spreadsheet-based data aggregation process were others.
Energizer is replacing this system with the Microsoft business intelligence solution based on technologies with which its people are already familiar—SQL Server 2005, Microsoft Office, and SharePoint Server—as well as Office PerformancePoint Server 2007.
“It’s a single, comprehensive environment,” says Randy Benz, chief information officer, Energizer. “And from a cost perspective it really was the most ideal solution because we were already working within a Microsoft environment, so we didn’t have to start from scratch or spend money to retrain employees on how to use the tools.”
As with Premier Bankcard and Skanska, Energizer finds that the low cost of the Microsoft business intelligence solution suits the way it wants to deploy that solution. “When I looked at other solutions, the interesting thing I found was that the pricing strategy seemed to be aimed at the specialist or data analyst who spends days accessing these tools,” says Benz. “But when you’re looking at a situation where users will only be accessing the solution for maybe an hour a day, then you have to build a solution that’s affordable for the masses.”
Benz sees the new solution yielding significant improvements in Energizer’s forecasting ability, including the ability to forecast sales for aggregate groups of small retailers, or for a particular product line simultaneously across one or several countries. Having sales and profit information in a single repository for the first time will minimize, if not eliminate, data inconsistencies between sales regions and the countries within them, he says.
“We anticipate sales forecasting will be so much faster and easier with this new solution,” says Benz. “Instead of looking only at what is happening at the product SKU level, we can complete our planning more quickly by looking at historical trends and market intelligence based on what is going on at the product line level.”
He says that having a strong performance management system in place will also position Energizer toward becoming a true business intelligence-based organization, in which employees throughout the company will have constant access to the accurate, up-to-date information they need to make smart business decisions. With the ability to monitor KPIs and compare actual results to pre-defined targets, both the company’s difference makers and high-level decision makers can take immediate actions to correct problems or to replicate one region’s or country’s success.
“What we’re getting with Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 is a powerful performance management solution delivered through the comprehensive Microsoft Office environment with which we’re all already familiar,” says Benz.
Calling Premier Bankcard
Meanwhile, if you’d like to call Premier Bankcard’s customer support line, please do. Van Zanten and his colleagues loaded their millions of records of automated phone line data into the SQL Server data warehouse and put their Microsoft Business Intelligence tools to work. They identified the specific menu options in the phone system that led callers to circle back to the opening menu and start over, to abandon their calls, or to transfer to customer service representatives. That enabled Premier Bankcard to revise the automated system, shortening customer call times, boosting customer satisfaction, reducing the burden on the customer service representatives, and saving the company $250,000 per year.
“We’re making better decisions faster, and both our customers and our company are the better for it,” says Van Zanten. “I think that’s pretty intelligent.”