REVIEWER: Doug Clark, manager, New Liskeard Data Warehouse, Northern Telephone LP.

BACKGROUND: The Télébec and NorthernTel group are two Bell Canada subsidiary limited partnership companies with a mandate to serve large areas of low-density population. Since 1905, NorthernTel has offered Northeastern Ontario communities progressive services that make it easier to communicate. Télébec and its subsidiaries offer integrated and innovative telecommunications solutions in 300 Quebec municipalities, thanks to the skill and expertise of approximately 820 employees.

PLATFORMS: NorthernTel and Télébec utilize multiprocessor Dell PowerEdge servers for their data warehousing and BI needs. These servers use the Windows 2000 server operating system.

PROBLEM SOLVED: One of Northern's key priorities was to get a better understanding of customer trends and behaviors. We wanted to understand our customer and product drivers and the trends in our business. Basically, we needed to obtain a snapshot of our corporate performance at any given point of time. Traditional systems gave us a view of "the whole forest" or of individual trees but were very limited in giving us any analysis-level views or insight between these two extreme perspectives. Télébec experienced the same challenges, but had approached the problem by creating large data warehouses that a central reporting group managed and reported against using SQL queries and Access. This group was caught between a bottomless well of end-user demands for information and reporting and the usual budget and headcount pressures. End users were completely reliant on this bottlenecked group for access to any reporting or new analysis.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Cognos allows us to extract and analyze the data from our data warehouse of more than 20 million rows to discover business trends quickly and easily. Cognos is one of the best ways I've seen to really maximize a data warehousing investment and get the ROI from it. Today, our users are able to view customer data very quickly to get sales and usage information and insights on how we should shape the services we offer customers. Through segmentation analysis of customers by a number of dimensions ranging from region to long-distance minutes by time of day, the software helps us design profitable and desirable rate plans. Staff can now generate marketing and sales reports in a fraction of the time than previously required.

STRENGTHS: Satisfaction with the data warehouse has increased thanks to Cognos. Télébec's marketing group said that this was the first time they had a really user-friendly tool for essential marketing requirements. Users are now empowered and enabled to get answers themselves about our customers. It is rare to have an all-in-one tool that combines powerful, self-serve OLAP analysis with such ease of use for extracting data, visualizing trends or spotting anomalies and then flexibly formatting reports.

WEAKNESSES: Sometimes Cognos PowerPlay analysis capability can give users too many options, too much power. For some of our users, heavy-duty analysis isn't always necessary. We plan to address this user group more satisfactorily with a pre-populated library of common reports on the secure intranet (Upfront portal) that comes with the Cognos suite.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We initially selected Cognos PowerPlay OLAP at NorthernTel because of its ease of use. Later, at the time of integration with Télébec, we considered standardizing on one OLAP platform, either Cognos or the Hyperion Essbase system. We concluded the integrated Cognos Windows, Excel and Web clients were significantly easier for end users than the alternative, and this was a key implementation success factor supporting our decision.

DELIVERABLES: The main deliverables are three cubes and related monthly reporting summarizing customer billing, long-distance call detail records and order activity reporting. The Cognos cubes are the only management information system we have that is capable of analyzing and flexibly reporting the customer trends by segment and sales channel, as well as by product category and location.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Newcomp is one of a small number of Cognos Pinnacle Partners and has been delivering quality Cognos BI solutions for many years. Working with Newcomp and Cognos has been a terrific experience. In Newcomp we have a partner that demonstrated a rare combination of high technical proficiency in conceptual design, excellent communications skills and real-world results-oriented practical problem solving. They assisted with every phase of the project life cycle, including design, implementation, testing, delivery and post-implementation support.

DOCUMENTATION: I feel strongly that Cognos offers a solution that is very intuitive. The documentation, while helpful, isn't required to use Cognos.

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