CATEGORY: Data Warehouse Design, Administration & Management

REVIEWER: John Comella, director of analysis and modeling for NAREX Inc., Golden, Colorado.

BACKGROUND: NAREX Inc. uses proprietary, artificial intelligence-based software to provide Web-based analytical solutions to the credit and collections industry. NAREX applications help credit grantors, collection agencies and debt buyers dramatically improve their operating efficiencies, maximize recoveries and increase net revenues. NAREX, which was established in 1995 by three people, currently has more than 70 employees.

PLATFORMS: Operating system: Microsoft Windows 2000.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We had terabytes of data that needed to be logically organized for easy and quick accessibility. We rank, or score, millions of accounts per month for some of the top credit grantors. Our clients send us historic data on their accounts, and we score the data to help our clients determine how collectible their accounts are, how to best approach the debtor and, in some cases, to recommend a collections agency. Using Microsoft SQL Server 2000, the data in our warehouse is accessible, organized and easy to arrange based on the information our clients want.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: SQL Server 2000 gives us an easy way to input and access data. To make a number of determinations about different aspects of the credit process, we put the data sent to us by our clients through our custom models, which are built based on account-specific analytical data and other consumer information. Compared to our prior database technology, SQL Server is easier to use and maintain and is considerably more affordable.

STRENGTHS: Overall, the ease of maintenance and dependability give us the advantage of using both of our database administrators as developers instead. Creation of databases, tables, views and indices is simple and intuitive. This ease of development in SQL Server allows our programmers to quickly design and prototype database applications without dedicated DBAs.

WEAKNESSES: In terms of data volume, NAREX is really pushing the limits of SQL Server. Also, on the larger databases, it takes a while to perform maintenance. Additionally, the system backups have been an issue. We would like to have the ability to back up specific tables rather than the entire database.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We knew SQL Server would integrate easily with our existing Microsoft environment. Also, we were a small company at the time and didn't have a dedicated database administrator, so ease of maintenance was important. The basic functionality was easy for a developer to pick up quickly. Cost was also a factor: The initial founders of the company had all worked extensively with Tandem in their previous jobs. They would have preferred this environment, but the cost was prohibitive.

DELIVERABLES: Factors we determine include what level of risk the individual or group presents, or the likelihood that the customer will pay the bill on time and what the best methods are for approaching the customer about late payments. At the same time, we have to enter millions of rows of updates to accounts we've already scored. The data warehousing capabilities and ease of use offered by SQL Server 2000 allow us to produce on both fronts quickly. We can return 80,000 scores in three to four hours.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We had database expertise, so we didn't need a lot of support initially. However, as we've grown and started pushing the size limit, Microsoft has been very responsive to us. We went to Microsoft in June for a SQL Server scalability lab meeting, which included in-depth discussions about our requirements of the product. They're very interested in our experience and are working closely with us to make product improvements. Also, a Microsoft technical specialist in Texas worked with us for weeks to help resolve a memory issue.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is informative and complete. We often use Microsoft's online help resources as well. Documentation is clear, easy to obtain and filled with examples. There's a great cut-and-paste feature that lets you take Microsoft's example and use it for your own situation. You can learn a lot very quickly.

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