REVIEWER: Carl Richardson, business intelligence (BI) project manager at MassHousing.

BACKGROUND: MassHousing is a leading provider of affordable housing for both individuals and major developments across the state of Massachusetts. Since 1970, MassHousing has provided more than $9.9 billion in financing for more than 88,000 units of mixed-income rental housing and 55,000 loans for home owners and home buyers throughout the state.

PLATFORMS: Microsoft SQL Server 2003, Microsoft Windows Server 2001 and 2003, Progress 8, Microsoft Access and BEA AquaLogic.

PROBLEM SOLVED: In 1998, we deployed an executive information system (EIS) to centralize all of our business data that, at the time, was separated across six separate business divisions: home ownership, rental development, rental management, corporate, mortgage insurance and MassHousing overall. In MassHousing overall, as our EIS matured, so did the requests and needs of our 300-plus users. We needed to standardize reporting criteria and provide executive reporting on budgeting/trending. To continue to meet these demands, we selected IBM Cognos 8 BI software, which allowed us to improve the accuracy and integrity of our reporting across these six business segments, a key challenge given the organization’s disparate architecture. Equally as important, we were able to create a custom internal portal that allowed employees to see the relevant information they need to drive performance at the start of and throughout every day. As a result of the original Cognos implementation, MassHousing now has a dedicated team in its BI and corporate reporting department that acts as a business intelligence competency center (BICC), tasked with making sure that both existing and new systems do not affect the overall reporting effectiveness or the needs of the agency overall.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: IBM Cognos 8 BI serves as the lifeline of our agency by providing an accurate and integrated view of key information across the entire organization. MassHousing’s IT team had developed an internal portal using BEA AquaLogic. This portal is referred to as “My MassHousing.” It provides employees with a centralized place to read agency news, fill out timesheets and access performance management systems. Using Cognos 8, the BI team was able to integrate key information into the portal. Executives now have easy access to budget information and proactive highlight reports on trending and spotlight information. The portal also provides executives with direct access to key organizational metrics so they can view consistent, up-to-date performance information.

STRENGTHS: The overall payback of the unified picture of the organization provided by Cognos 8 BI has been priceless. With solid support from IBM/Cognos, our business continues to evolve. Since the deployment of the solution, departments such as human resources and compliance and diversity are accessing Cognos reports to help meet regulatory requirements. Also, executives have enhanced visibility into the agency. Reports that previously took days to create can now be completed in a matter of minutes. It is impossible to put a value on giving an executive quick access to consistent business information for informed decision-making. Overall, we feel that Cognos 8 BI provides a complete picture of our overall performance, while also delivering a highly customized experience to meet the unique needs of our diverse users. The Cognos solution is also considered mission critical at MassHousing.

WEAKNESSES: It was challenging to coordinate both the business and IT needs to make this project a success, but the end result was well worth the effort. The establishment of a BICC contributed to this coordination effort.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We selected IBM Cognos 8 BI over competitive products because of its ability to adapt to changes that occur within our organization as well as in the data.

DELIVERABLES: We use IBM Cognos 8 BI to access budget information and performance management systems, and to run proactive highlight reports on trending and stoplight information. The application is an essential part of our business continuity planning.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Educating and training our internal staff was extremely important. Cognos and Cognos-certified consulting and training teams worked closely with our internal teams to accomplish this goal. Cognos consulting directly contributed to our increased business reporting efficiency and helped us create a unified picture of the overall business.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is very comprehensive.

IBM Cognos 8 Business Intelligence
Cognos, an IBM Company
15 Wayside Road
Burlington, MA 01803
(781) 229-6600

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