One of the advantages of my position as Publisher of DM Review is that I have many opportunities to visit conferences, conventions, seminars and vendor sites. Consequently, I am keenly aware of enterprise requirements and the solutions vendors provide to meet those requirements. Occasionally, I encounter vendor solutions that I feel are very unique. My Publisher's Insight feature spotlights these exceptional products.
Solutions that provide a totally integrated environment for the development of analytic applications are critical to success. Broadbase has developed a totally integrated solution for the development of turnkey data marts which is suited for the mainstream market. They have developed a product that combines the integration of disparate data sources into a single data store that is easily accessible to the general business user.
Securing a Business-Focused Information Strategy
By Elizabeth V. Roesner
In its simplest form, the concept of the data warehouse is the process of extracting operational data and perhaps third-party information, transforming (scrubbing) it and putting it into a uniform format. The data is then warehoused in a relational or multidimensional database and made available to the enterprise to access and analyze with various tools.
In the world of large-scale data analysis, data warehousing projects are often complex--taking anywhere from 18 months to three years to deploy. While the return on investment for many early data warehouses was indeed formidable, the complexity, time and expense required for their implementation and maintenance restricted them to companies with significant resources.
Data marts arose from the realization that warehousing concepts could scale down with attractive benefits and price/performance ratios to offer line-of-business, departmental organizations and medium-sized companies "warehouse-like power."
In a recent study, International Data Corporation (IDC) of Framingham, Massachusetts, found that the payback period for a data warehouse is estimated at 1.9 years, double that of data marts at .94 years. And according to Henry Morris, program director of Data Warehousing and Information Access at IDC, "Data marts--or what we call subject-specific data warehouses--are more bounded and hence are more amenable to packaging."
Packaging is exactly what Broadbase Information Systems had in mind when they introduced their integrated data mart solution in October 1997. Reinventing decision support by crafting a turnkey data mart that was not only easy to use and implement, but one that would flexibly adapt to rapidly changing business environments was the company's express goal. In addition to being a complete decision support platform, Broadbase includes all the tools you need for data extraction, data transformation (scrubbing), data tuning, automatic background processing, query and reporting, and Web access.
Teresa Wingfield, Research Director at Giga Information Group, gave Broadbase high marks for its supporting bundling technologies that "simplify deployment and management of the data mart." Wingfield further observes, "Broadbase's database features several design points that are emerging as required for effective decision support database design: columnar storage, support for outer joins, a cost-based optimizer, self-tuning capabilities, etc. It also has the ability to format queried data into cubes for multidimensional analysis. The implications for decision support system (DSS) application design are significant."
A host of Broadbase consulting partners, experienced in data warehouse design and implementation, have found the Broadbase turnkey data mart to be an ideal platform for analytic solutions that immediately deliver management insights and business value. One such customer that is putting its data mart to work quickly is Plymouth Rock Assurance Company of Boston, Massachusetts, which is one of a group of related, but decentralized, property and casualty insurance writers and servicing companies of Plymouth Rock Company. Plymouth Rock Assurance processes and distributes data and tables for all companies, extracted from daily transactions received from the companies' third-party processor, Policy Management System Corporation. Its goal was to develop a corporate data store with a customer orientation rather than a policy or claims orientation to gain an integrated view of its customers and lines of business by analyzing policyholder profiles, measuring agent productivity and anticipating insurance claims.
Myron Karasik, technology director, headed the Plymouth Rock team that looked at several possible solutions before selecting Broadbase and their consulting partner, Decision Support Technology (DST). "A single vendor offering a fully integrated data mart is what initially attracted us to broadbase," said Karasik. "The price was right for us, and Broadbase's 100 gigabyte size limit was more than enough for what we needed."
According to DST consultant Eric Berry, "Broadbase's compression algorithm is extremely efficient. Sourcing, linking and loading one 6.5GB SQL Server table (24 million records) turned into one 930MB Broadbase table, an 85 percent reduction. Berry also noted that "Running a query [without indexes] on SQL Server took 9 minutes--and only 40 seconds on Broadbase, a whopping thirteen times faster."
Plymouth Rock's Year 2000 initiative prompted the move to standardize its information delivery, reporting and analysis on Broadbase's foundation for analytic applications. One of Eric Berry's first jobs was to move Plymouth Rock's mainframe-based policy processing system into Broadbase's more flexible, distributed environment to facilitate the flow of enterprise information. "The benefits of Broadbase are clearly threefold for Plymouth Rock," said Berry. "It meets the company's Year 2000 requirement for an NT-based solution. It allows headquarters and agents in the field to easily access data and reports from a corporate data store that is populated in Broadbase and updated at least daily. No more reconciliation between disparate systems, since all queries, processing and reporting access the same data. And it provides the data store advantages of a data warehouse without the cost and complexity."
Plymouth Rock will also use Broadbase to improve business performance by automating closed-loop functions between analysis and operational systems, including calculating commissions for each of its 150 agents. Several variables determine commissions, including whether it is a new business activity, a new business opportunity, renewal, affinity group program, etc. Broadbase then executes a series of transactions to produce the commission checks. Karasik notes, "Broadbase is the only platform I've seen that allows me to easily integrate legacy information, apply specific metrics and automate actions and tie backs to operational systems."
The flexibility of Broadbase/Brio allows for "what-if" queries that assist Plymouth Rock's underwriting department with risk and rate analysis. Other applications call for incorporating external prospecting data to provide information for agency target marketing efforts. Agents will use the built-in data mining techniques on claims demographics to create a scoring system based on the best predictive attributes of loss exposure.
The Broadbase data store will be at the core of various reengineering efforts at Plymouth Rock. Broadbase is expected to eliminate the need for the existing COLD (Computer Output to Laser Disk) storage system for print documents. All of the "raw" customer, policy and claim data for these processes will be stored in Broadbase. High-volume, high-speed document print processes will be fed from Broadbase, while reprint requests will be processed in Brio. In time, the COLD storage of new reports will be eliminated, and the archived history will be phased out when the data needs of the company's accounting and other departments are determined.
Using Broadbase's Web access capability, development is underway for distributing data and reports on Plymouth Rock's company-wide intranet to give agents full access to client and policy histories, documents and prospect data. This will allow the company to better target products and services, analyze buying behavior and deliver more value and service to their customers. By the end of 1998, more than half of all the corporate database queries will be executed by Web browsers, according to industry analysts at The Patricia Seybold Group. The biggest payoff for Plymouth Rock will be getting everyone from agents to claims adjusters to underwriting equipped with the tools they need to find out what the customer wants to know. This way, intelligent decisions can be made on the spot.
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