REVIEWER: Mark Underwood, 2VP of business intelligence at Protective Life.

BACKGROUND: Protective Life Insurance Company helps to provide financial security through insurance and investment products. Established more than 100 years ago, and with a heritage of strength and a tradition of innovation, Protective Life is among the nation's leading insurance companies.

PLATFORMS: Windows Server 2008 platform for application. SQL Server 2008 R2 for product and data stores.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We’re two years into a three-year business intelligence program that was designed to help Protective take the most advantage of its information and continue to innovate in the 21st century. Protective Life is very project-centric, so rather than build a huge data warehouse to serve as a single-point repository for information delivery, we wanted to deliver a subject area’s worth of the warehouse to each division of the departments (life group, annuity group, finance, etc.). It was essential for us to report data to the business users so it had meaning to them. We also needed to show them where the data came from and prove integration to instill confidence in the data that we’re delivering. Another issue was the time it took to compile the actionable, decision-based data the business needed to operate. For instance, we have compliance mandates dictating how data is stored, tracked and reported. This was being done manually and often requiring months of man hours.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We reached a point where people started to accept the concept of self-servicing and understand data stewardship and governance. The next step was to determine how to integrate it all and become an enterprise program. How do we fit these pieces together as data flows from new business to sales to corporate and out to finance? How do we bring together components like data lineage, dictionaries and data analyst requirements and manage it? This is where Embarcadero’s ER/Studio XE came in. We estimated this data integration project would take a year, but with ER/Studio XE, we accomplished it in just a month. ER/Studio XE also accelerated our program’s MDM reference and management pieces. We can underpin our data with stewardship on the IT side where we have a system of record and on the data governance side with a business definition of how that data should be delivered and what it means to the business user. It was also imperative to shrink the time it took to compile decision-based data for business users. For instance, we recently finished a project where it was taking the business team 12 man-months to compile compliance data. Using ER/Studio XE, we were able to rearchitect that process to less than an hour. Additionally, and importantly, the same data that goes out through compliance is exactly the same information that lands on the COO’s desk, so everything reconciles.

STRENGTHS: Generally speaking, ER/Studio XE really ties everything together for us. It’s an essential part of our project lifecycle. It can be granular for the BI team that doesn’t want to be bothered with the big picture. Meanwhile, I can see the big picture all the way back to the source systems, and that imparts confidence. In terms of specific features, ER/Studio’s centralized repository is a huge capability. It’s important to an extended organization like ours because we can keep data models and definitions in a central place where everyone can access them. This ties back to our goal of self-service. Another plus is being able to do attribute-level submodeling. It’s a feature that’s not as well known, but something we use often.

WEAKNESSES: The only thing I might change about ER/Studio XE is to pare down the user interface. There are quite a few icons on the toolbars and it can be excessive when we’re trying to get to a certain feature to perform a specific task.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We were getting by with outdated versions of another product and spreadsheets, so we decided to see what high-value data modeling solutions were available. ER/Studio rose to the top fairly quickly and, from our team’s standpoint, it was a fairly easy decision. ER/Studio stood out because it’s a true enterprise-class tool and we especially liked its automation capabilities, repository, submodeling features and its ability to draw relational models.

DELIVERABLES: An important first order of business was to create an enterprise data dictionary to standardize and eliminate data redundancies – so attribute ‘A’ in one model was the same as attribute ‘A’ in another. ER/Studio XE also enables us to create data models, either starting from a conceptual model or by reverse-engineering a database into a physical model. We can then document them and publish them for the teams. Using the tool’s data lineage functionality, we can document how data flows through the organization and trace data origins to ensure its accuracy, and this has proven invaluable. We can also pull our own reports and definitions into formats that can be consumed by analysts and business users without us needing to translate them.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We assigned an internal team to oversee the deployment, and our Embarcadero representative was available throughout the process to help guide it, answer any questions and ensure it went off without a glitch. To this day, whenever questions come up, finding an answer or resolution is as simple as picking up the phone.

DOCUMENTATION: We haven’t experienced any issues with the documentation provided by Embarcadero and, in fact, we honestly haven’t relied on it too much. When questions arose during the learning curve with ER/Studio XE, we usually asked rather than go read about it in the documentation.

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