PLATFORMS: Foster Parents Plan utilizes legacy data from an IBM AS/400 with new information from a Microsoft Windows NT SQL Server data mart in a Microsoft BackOffice environment that is updated weekly. Cognos' PowerPlay is used for multidimensional analysis of recruiting, costs, sponsors, retention and other data; and Impromptu is used to extract data from the data mart for creating reports and for use with PowerPlay.

BACKGROUND: Foster Parents Plan of Canada is the leading Canadian child-focused development organization and works at a grassroots level in more than 40 developing countries to enable families to help themselves. Canadians, through Foster Parents Plan, sponsor almost 100,000 of the 1,000,000 children helped directly by Foster Parents Plan worldwide through initiatives such as shelter improvement, literacy, AIDS awareness and vaccinations. In 1996, we reviewed our goals and systems and decided to implement a data mart and deploy business intelligence tools from Cognos, ensuring a solid technology infrastructure for the future and delivering quick and easy access to information necessary for optimal use of our resources.

PROBLEM SOLVED: As a non-profit organization, Foster Parents Plan required a technology infrastructure that could accommodate future needs while keeping the cost of ownership low. We also wanted to provide our decision-makers with tools that allowed easy access to and analysis of critical information to improve our processes. It was laborious and time consuming to target activities and analyze Foster Parent recruitment costs and methods.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: PowerPlay allows manipulation and analysis of the data through graphical OLAP and drill-down capabilities. Impromptu is used to access the data mart, bringing data to the desktop to create tabular and graphical reports that are easy to read and distribute. The Cognos business intelligence tools make it easier for the entire organization to analyze comprehensive information, to examine all facets of our organization and continuously improve our methods and varied programs.

STRENGTHS: Impromptu and PowerPlay are easily deployed to the desktop so workers throughout an organization can immediately begin to analyze data on their own. Impromptu accesses every popular database, and PowerPlay provides powerful analysis with fast response times. By presenting information in a number of familiar formats, highlights and exceptions are readily apparent, enabling fast responses to inefficient processes and justified support for programs that work well.

WEAKNESSES: PowerPlay's Transformer multidimensional cube builder does not always understand every Impromptu report format dimension, requiring some customization, and PowerPlay does not yet support easy folder grouping, but we understand that these issues are being addressed in the more tightly integrated COGNOSuite and other releases from Cognos.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Cognos tools were selected because they were easy to deploy and use, are integrated with our SQL Server and AS/400, and fit perfectly with our self-serve data mart solution.

DELIVERABLES: The bottom line is that the more we can control organizational costs and processes, the more resources we can pass on directly to development projects that improve the welfare of children around the world. Integrating and updating our data in a data mart connected to desktops empowers our managers to conduct their own analysis with PowerPlay and create their own reports with Impromptu, without having to understand database structures or computer languages.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Cognos and its partners were very responsive during development and deployment.

DOCUMENTATION: Excellent documentation is provided on-line.

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