Advanstar Communications, Inc. is a leading business-to-business communication company, which provides forums for buyers and sellers with common goals to communicate with each other. Two main venues that enable this interaction are the production of trade shows and the publication of trade magazines. Other products that enhance the buyer-seller relationship include list rentals, classified ads, card decks and Web sites featuring magazine content, trade show exhibitor lists and e-directories.

As Advanstar grew, each industry segment grew as an independent business unit, causing data to be managed in "pockets" across the organization. These "pockets" of data were the result of different technologies managing different businesses with different business rules and department heads. We needed a way to bring this data together in one place with one consistent set of business rules to standardize the value of the data and still allow the business units to manage independently.

The decentralized business structure and disparate technologies made it a challenge to analyze data and roll data up to a corporate view. There was little sharing of information about common customers who had activity in multiple business units. Even worse, it was often impossible to get quick information on a customer's activity across multiple product lines within the same organizational unit.

Relational Solutions, Inc. (RSI) was brought in because of their expertise in data warehousing. Under the direction of Rick Treese, CTO, RSI studied Advanstar's architecture, interviewed key managers and reviewed our data flow for several weeks. They worked with us to develop a strategic approach to address our business needs. Relational Solutions presented a project plan that included an architecture, product recommendations and a team approach. The team included project managers from each company, a system architect from RSI, a programmer from each team and a database administrator from Advanstar.

A prototype was developed to prove the value to executive management. After presenting the application to Joe Loggia, CEO, and other executive sponsors, it was deemed that the data mart would deliver the desired objectives. The project was approved. A detailed design was prepared and development started immediately after design approval.

Relational Solutions was chosen by Advanstar as the consulting company. Relational Solutions has brought to the table not only their wealth of expertise in data warehousing, but also their knowledge of key business issues and management needs. RSI has developed a team that complements our internal IT staff and has given us the knowledge we need to continue to enhance and grow our data warehouse environment.

MicroStrategy was selected as our Web-based user tool. The flexibility and ease of development of the product plus the intuitive user experience made this an obvious choice, giving us the ability to access information anywhere, anytime.

The success of the system was measured in terms of productivity, with some specific measurable events. For example, there is a particular set of data needed routinely for corporate reporting. This data previously took three full days to compile. With the data mart, the information is available within minutes. There are many examples where critical trending and marketing information took days to compile but is now available almost instantaneously.

There are some subjective measurements used to gauge the success of the system. Prior to the data mart, it was nearly impossible to view Advanstar's entire competitive world and analyze our activity against that world. With the data mart, this is very easy. It is hard to measure how much our business is improved by this information; but everyone agrees that without it, there is high potential for lost opportunities.

The data mart must provide an organization with information that is not currently available or difficult to obtain. It is not easy to put a dollar value on information or the ability to easily analyze trends, but management must be convinced of this importance for the project to be a success. Productivity improvements are easier to quantify because you can measure the time it takes to gather data and generate informative results, both before the existence of the mart and after. Making managers and staff more effective is much more difficult to measure. Showing trends that point out problems while there is still time to take corrective action, and even pointing to what those actions should be, can make an organization more competitive and effective. However, measuring the direct outcome of the data mart as it pertains to this role is not something that can be quantified. Executive management must believe that the organization will be better off by having this capability.

Advanstar has benefited by making people more productive and effective both from a management perspective and from a sales and marketing perspective. Each person has a better focus on his or her individual goals and areas of improvement. Management can take corrective action before it is too late and, better yet, identify areas of opportunity more easily.

Relational Solutions provided us with a tool that is powerful, easy and intuitive. The comprehensive development environment is fast and effective. MicroStrategy has enabled us to achieve the goals of drilling through our data to find the critical business indicators and allowed effective and proactive actions to be taken to maximize our opportunities with our customers.

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