CATEGORY: DW Design, Administration & Management

REVIEWER: Tim Peterson, senior IT analyst for the Principal Financial Group.

BACKGROUND: The Principal Financial Group is a leading global financial institution offering businesses, individuals and institutional clients a wide range of financial products and services including retirement and investment services, life and health insurance and mortgage banking. Headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, the Principal Financial Group serves more than 13 million customers worldwide.

PLATFORMS: IBM DB2 OS 390 version 6.1, UNIX UDB 7.1, Oracle8.1, SQL Server 7 for database. Operating systems include Windows NT and AIX 4.3.3. IIS Web Server.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Principal Financial Group National Accounts division needed to provide self-funded customers timely access to a wide variety of information over the Internet that would help them understand and control their medical benefits program. Our customer relationship management (CRM) initiative at the Principal Financial Group identified a key element of this relationship to be a consolidated extranet environment. By allowing our B2B customers to access their data through a secured application, they can now manage their entire medical benefits program through a single Web portal. WebIntelligence from Business Objects allows us to distribute critical information within minutes that had previously taken three to five days to produce and deliver. Prior to our extranet, the reports were in the form of paper and/or disks that were mailed to each customer.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Business Objects WebIntelligence offers the ability to bring together information from various platforms into a single distribution point. In our environment! , this is extremely critical as we have various sources of information and data. We combine data from DB2, Oracle and SQL Server to generate various reports and subsequent detail. We are able to utilize this functionality not only in the national accounts division, but throughout the enterprise. Our WebIntelligence reporting environment is centralized, so other departments can easily begin development and deploy effective reports in a timely manner; this can take the form of intranet or extranet reporting. Lastly, we were able to schedule reports to run during off- peak hours and be available for customers the next morning, thereby representing 24x7 functionality.

STRENGTHS: We were using the client/server of BusinessObjects reporter for a year prior to deploying over the Web. Because WebIntelligence uses the existing architecture, specifically the repository, we were able to have a proof of concept up and running in a day and "pushing" the existing reports to the Web immediately. Utilizing the suite of products from Business Objects, the national accounts division was able to offer a dynamic reporting solution that leverages our existing internally designed customer Web portal. WebIntelligence is a highly scalable and robust solution that integrates well with our overall Web strategy and current infrastructure. Additionally, the application is firewall and DMZ friendly. Considering the information that was being distributed over the Web was extremely sensitive, one of our primary requirements was to ensure that the application architecture met our stringent security standards.

WEAKNESSES: We've encountered some necessary revisions on report formulas and existing reports when upgrading to newer versions of the software. We've also encountered some printing issues with various print drivers.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Business Objects software is very intuitive to use and understand. The Designer software allows IT staff to convert system language into easy-to-use terminology for business partners. This allowed for a smooth transition of report writing away from the IT staff with little or no training. The reports can be seamlessly sent through WebIntelligence for distribution directly to external clients.

DELIVERABLES: Using the iterative warehousing methodology, we developed our first report in six months. We have created an efficient workflow for future deployment of WebIntelligence reports. Our second phase included 11 reports, which were developed and deployed in four months. We now have 15 reports available to manage the self-funded block of business. Our residential mortgage area deployed an extranet reporting system in the second quarter of 2001 utilizing the same infrastructure components, which demonstrates how various business areas can utilize WebIntelligence to improve their respective B2B initiatives.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Business Objects is very responsive to our needs. Their online technical support system has been beneficial in providing quick access to various issues to keep development moving forward.

DOCUMENTATION: Business Objects provides printed and online documentation.

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