REVIEWER: Brenda Smith, director of IT services at First Industrial.

BACKGROUND: First Industrial Realty Trust engages in the ownership, management, acquisition, sale, development and redevelopment of industrial real estate properties. The company has its corporate headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, and more than 20 regional offices.

PLATFORMS: Our source systems include a JD Edwards financial application, a CRM system, a Stellent/Oracle content management system and market feeds that reflect changes in the real estate industry. We also have an Oracle data warehouse.

PROBLEM SOLVED: In an effort to optimize productivity, First Industrial previously implemented a business intelligence environment, but the solution proved to be too inflexible and made it difficult for users to export data to Microsoft Excel for further manipulation. As a result, end users were often reliant on the IT department in order to conduct high-level analysis. We implemented Information Builders WebFOCUS with Data Migrator to provide users with more convenient, intuitive and flexible access to and analysis of data about properties, tenants, leasing deals, legal issues and finances from a variety of homegrown and third party software applications, including a JD Edwards EnterpriseOne ERP system. Information is now delivered via a series of dashboards that can be personalized based on each user’s individual needs. By empowering executives and employees with faster, easier access to vital information, our company has improved a variety of key business disciplines such as property portfolio and site management, tenant relationship management, financial management and vendor management.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We used the WebFOCUS Portal to create a customizable environment with lots of personalization so people can view particular property portfolios, consolidate groups, isolate certain geographic regions and so forth. WebFOCUS has an open environment that integrates well with other application development environments. The end user environment is very intuitive. After a brief overview, people know how to use it. Most staff members don’t need any technical background to use WebFOCUS.

STRENGTHS: WebFOCUS integrates with First Industrial’s access management system and LDAP directory. Each user’s credentials are passed to all associated applications upon login, so users can view pertinent information via a single sign-on process.

WEAKNESSES: We had some performance issues initially with Data Migrator when we were using the GUI to do the mapping. We ended up using Data Migrator to write SQL routines rather than using the GUI version. This resolved the issue.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We evaluated BI solutions from Information Builders, Business Objects, Oracle and Resolve Technologies. WebFOCUS seemed to have the dynamics we were seeking. The integration with Excel was excellent, and the WebFOCUS development platform matched our needs. Ideally we wanted to contract with one software vendor for both ETL tools and BI tools. When we learned about iWay Data Migrator and the many data adapters available with WebFOCUS, we became increasingly enthusiastic about the complete package from Information Builders.

DELIVERABLES: We have customized WebFOCUS to meet the varied needs of many users, from administrators to executives. They see a visually colorful dashboard with tabs directing them to relevant groups of reports. Property managers are directed to the portfolio management tab, where they can run reports like lease abstracts and tenant rent rolls. Senior executives access the performance tab, which presents key performance graphs, including projected occupancy, key vacancies, key rollovers and leasing activity. The accounting group uses WebFOCUS to run standard financial reports including property statements, balance sheets, income statements and trial balances. Users can drill down as necessary. It’s fairly simple to analyze data on the fly, allowing users to perform whatever analytics they want. Executives now have vital information at their fingertips to aid in decision-making. Employees can more efficiently obtain property management data, which prepares them to buy, sell and manage First Industrial’s vast property portfolio more effectively, which in turn increases accuracy and margins while reducing costs.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Information Builders spent about a week creating a proof of concept. We posed some tough challenges to both their reporting and integration teams, and Information Builders responded well to all of them. After we purchased the software, Information Builders professional services helped us develop the initial reporting infrastructure and ETL environment. Five of our personnel attended a WebFOCUS workshop in Chicago, where they reviewed ETL, architectural and OLAP issues with the Information Builders staff.

DOCUMENTATION: Information Builders has good online documentation and tutorials plus an active user community that exchanges information on the Focal Point forum.

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