REVIEWER: Stuart Green, national intelligence division analyst for HM Customs & Excise.

BACKGROUND: From collecting billions in value added tax (VAT) and excise duties to safeguarding endangered species, HM Customs & Excise has a unique and crucial role to play in society. As well as bringing in around 40 percent of the United Kingdom's (UK's) total taxation yield, HM Customs & Excise is a frontline organization responsible for protecting society against the growing threat of illicit drugs, firearms and fraud.

PLATFORMS: All imports and exports into the UK are logged onto our Trade and Statistics system, TS93, using only the VAT number to identify the importer. There are over 1.5 million registered VAT traders on our Customs & Excise database.

PROBLEM SOLVED: A 1995 government expenditure review prompted HM Customs & Excise to rethink the use of its intelligence. Rather than using data solely for operational decision-making, the department wanted to derive tactical and strategic value from its information to better fight crime, fraud and drugs. This involves finding links, trends or causes and effects from terabytes of data held in multiple formats, databases and platforms. As recently as two years ago, extracting and cross-referencing data from the HM Customs & Excise Trade and Statistics system, TS93, with other data was deemed too time-consuming and resource intensive to repeat.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: CorVu's robust business intelligence solution, CorBusiness, is our primary tool for extracting and preparing data for further analysis by specialist software. It has great ease of use, flexibility and power, as well as an independent, interoperable platform.

STRENGTHS: We were recently tasked with identifying the location of import and export hot spots, and CorBusiness proved an invaluable data matching and extracting tool. We use CorBusiness to perform the extraction and data matching. Now it takes us about 15 minutes to perform queries ­ two years ago this would have taken two weeks. Approximately two years ago, a team of people attempted the same task on a year's worth of data. It took about 18 months, or four to five man-years, to perform a very simple comparison across the two databases because we did not have the tools we have today. Because it took so long, it was recommended we should not repeat the operation. Without CorBusiness, we simply could not have done this or any of our other quantitative analytical work.

WEAKNESSES: We are very early in the analytical project as the analysts have only been trained in the tools for a just few months. We are still aiming to achieve a total success rate in accurately answering the inquiries we receive.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The government review led to the formation of the HM Customs & Excise National Intelligence Division (NID) whose responsibilities include the development of an information systems framework, enabling the interrogation of data for strategic and tactical purposes. The NID's Analytical Centres Project has a target user population of over 100 analysts and an information technology infrastructure worthy of a world-class intelligence organization with a data warehouse that went live in April 1999. Its mission is to provide proactive intelligence in support of the business objectives of combating fraud, smuggling and noncompliance. We wanted to find the best-of-breed business solution that could be used on any platform and any data source. We were particularly concerned that it should be flexible. Since this was a brand new project, we expected the analysts' skills would grow with the tool. After a detailed evaluation of over 100 products, the analysts, who would ultimately be depending on the tools, were given the final choice. CorBusiness was chosen for its ease of use, flexibility and power.

DELIVERABLES: Analysts within HM Customs & Excise NID daily perform a variety of complex intelligence tasks in as little as 15 minutes using CorBusiness. CorBusiness is now the frontline solution in the quest to help government bodies fight crime and fraud, and research as well as measure policy initiatives.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We are impressed with CorVu and its attentive staff of consultants.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation for CorBusiness is quite thorough and available in a variety of formats.

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