REVIEWER: Marshall Edgison, director of Application Development and Support for ELM Resources.
BACKGROUND: ELM Resources runs a student loan data exchange network representing one-third of all student federal loans in the U.S. It facilitates business among thousands of post-secondary financial aid offices and lenders, managing more than 4.5 million loans each year. ELM Resources is a non-profit company supported by the lenders, guarantors and servicers who are its members.
PLATFORMS: Windows and Oracle 10g.
PROBLEM SOLVED: We were looking for a more robust reporting solution to gain a stronger competitive edge as well as a way to ease our customer's growing frustration with manual processes. Our customers also wanted the ability to modify ELM's standard reports to meet the unique needs of their business. Our old reporting solution made custom reporting a manual process. We had one to two resources completely devoted to building, running and distributing custom reports to our customers, which frustrated the customers who just wanted access to the information and did not have time to wait for it. With the improvements Cognos made to our reporting framework, ELM customers now have the ability to get data how they want it, when they want it. Our customers feel Cognos 8 BI is a great solution. In addition, our reporting capabilities can now easily scale and process the 35 million to 40 million transactions and $22 billion of loan volume that ELM manages through its ELMNet system, which is exactly what we needed.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: After evaluating several tools, we chose Cognos because it was so easy to use, with an intuitive interface that was welcomed by our staff and, more importantly, by our customers who are mostly nontechnical business users. Cognos 8 BI is also Web based, which helps facilitate the process for the financial aid offices and ELM to communicate and share information quickly and efficiently. We were also looking for a solution that could grow as our reporting requirements for both internal users and customers becomes more complex. Being a member-owned organization with direct ties to lenders and guarantee agencies, we found that Cognos was a reporting solution that many of our counterparts also used within their organizations. Aided by Cognos, we trained an initial pool of several hundred users at key customer organizations in 2006. We plan to extend that training to approximately 4,000 users. We also provided training manuals on our Web site as well as a series of Webcasts available on demand. With Cognos' help, we are marching toward universal adoption by all of our customers. We have been so successful with Cognos' solution that our executive management team is now interested in leveraging Cognos to gain a greater understanding of our business through scorecarding and executive dashboards.
STRENGTHS: Key strengths of Cognos 8 BI include its ease of use, ability to free up time for employees, tight integration with Oracle, IBM and Siebel solutions and its scalability.
WEAKNESSES: The weakness for us was concentrated around the new level of administrative and system support complexities that Cognos represented. We migrated from a far more basic reporting tool to an enterprise-class reporting solution that was a bit more challenging than we had initially anticipated.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We chose Cognos 8 BI because of its familiar Web-based user-interface, ease of use and scalability. ELM Resources is a small company with a lot of customers, so we did not want a solution that would require significant hands-on training.
DELIVERABLES: In our first month using Cognos, 1,700 individual reports were run almost exclusively by external users. During peak season, up to 30,000 users accessed data from our Oracle warehouse, which houses nearly a half terabyte of data. As the solution now runs against a data warehouse, outages in our transaction processing system attributable to reporting snafus have been completely eliminated.
VENDOR SUPPORT: We worked with Cognos' partner Merador to help implement the solution. Merador also helped us build 100 standard reports, 1,600 varied reports and deploy the ad hoc reporting solution to its customer base. Merador provided Report Builder and administration training to both our internal support organization as well as to customer-facing staff. Cognos Training was also a big help in training our users who were responsible for building reports and evaluating data within each of the organizations.
DOCUMENTATION: The documentation was comprehensive.
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