Case Study: The Weather Channel

“By deploying a Microsoft BI solution based on SQL Server 2012 and Power View, we save 160 hours each month generating just one of our key reports.” - Andy Drooker, Director of Engineering Platforms, The Weather Channel

Leading Global Weather Company Saves 160 Hours Monthly, Boosts Efficiency and Control

The Weather Channel is a leading provider of round-the-clock weather forecasts and programs. From all over the world, people tune in to The Weather Channel via TV, the Internet, mobile devices, and tablets.

Before 2012, the company used automated and manual processes to manage and analyze subscriptions from hundreds of service providers. Collectively, 1 petabyte of financial data resided in five different systems, and on employees’ desktops, that ran on the Microsoft platform. Each system used a separate process to generate reports. As a result, every automated report contained information from only one system. To create BI, the reports were manually consolidated with Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software—a process that took hours or days. “The complexity of our business data was very difficult to manage with our previous solution,” says Andy Drooker, Senior Director of Emerging Platforms at The Weather Channel. “And employees could not view real-time BI.”

Only IT personnel could customize static reports, and staff had no easy way to view the details that constituted aggregate values. Drooker says, “Reports tell a story about our business. However, employees had to engage IT personnel to look at the story from a different perspective or obtain details.” He continues to explain that for The Weather Channel, the need to effectively analyze data is increasing. “As more people switch to online offerings, we can no longer just depend on companies like Nielsen to understand trends. We need to make better use of our own data.”

The company also wanted to streamline data access and management. Employees circulated reports via email; as a result, people had to wait for business intelligence. Employees also stored large volumes of BI on desktops using email and other business applications. Not only did The Weather Channel need to manage 2 terabytes of new business data each year, but IT personnel also wanted to contain the increasing storage requirements for individual desktops.

The company sought a flexible BI solution to accelerate business insight, simplify and enhance BI, and increase data control.

Solution
Initially, The Weather Channel planned to implement QlikView as a BI tool. However, after experiencing scalability issues, the company decided to switch to a solution based on Microsoft BI tools including Power View, a new BI tool in Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services. “We wanted to bring in data from multiple sources and add features that were either not possible or not easy to implement with QlikView,” says Drooker. “Another benefit of the Microsoft BI solution is that training is minimal. Why add complexity and increase costs with a third-party solution when we can use SQL Server 2012 and Power View to simplify integration with our existing technologies?”.

In March 2012, IT personnel from The Weather Channel worked with Microsoft Services consultants to set up a data warehouse using SQL Server 2012 Enterprise software. Because the company virtualizes most of its desktops and servers, the warehouse runs on a virtual machine supported by an HP ProLiant DL380 server computer and Hyper-V technology in the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise operating system.

The team also took advantage of other built-in capabilities of the Microsoft platform. For example, consultants used Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Integration Services to extract data from business systems and load it into the warehouse. To facilitate multidimensional data analysis, engineers created online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes with Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services. The team also used SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services to create static reports.

To provide access to the reports and Power View, engineers set up a portal with Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. The team manages who can view BI using permission levels within SharePoint Server.

By May 2012, seven people were accessing the solution from virtual desktops running the Windows 7 Professional operating system. Commenting on the deployment, Drooker says, “Once we got the core structure in place, the implementation took less than one week.” The company will continue deploying the solution to more employees, and it plans to take advantage of other built-in BI capabilities such as dashboards.

Benefits

  • Saves more than 160 hours each month
  • Improves security and control
  • Speeds efficiency
  • Increases insight and agility

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