REVIEWER: Dan Ingle, vice president of data services for PeopleFirst.com.
BACKGROUND: PeopleFirst.com is the nation's largest online originator and servicer of Blank Check vehicle loans. Established in 1995, the company was founded in response to the needs of individuals who were poorly serviced and often overcharged with traditional financing. The founders of the company, all with experience in the automotive finance and banking industries, innovated a new technology to create a secure and efficient online environment where consumers could go for a competitive vehicle loan.
PLATFORMS: Sagent's software runs on Compaq hardware running Windows 2000.
PROBLEM SOLVED: Before Sagent, whenever our business users needed to analyze data or run reports, they needed to consult a database administrator or software engineer. What we needed was a self-service information reporting process for our end users. The need also emerged for a solution that could evolve with our data warehouse to support not just our marketing department, but also the entire organization including other departments such as operations and finance.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The Sagent BI platform has enabled us to move past one-dimensional data analysis. We're still able to do things like understand customer acquisition costs; but now we can also look at trends in our Web site traffic, integrate more of our accounting and financial data into the warehouse (for comparing estimated versus actual costs), and help the business understand other financial drivers too. This has given us a greater ability to understand the data that's driving our business.
STRENGTHS: Sagent provides us with a highly integrated solution set, giving us robust ETL capabilities, combined with solid front-end reporting and analysis. Being able to acquire the capabilities for both sides of the warehousing equation, from one vendor and toolset, has proven to be an efficient as well as effective answer for the organization. Also, with a core team of only three to four data warehouse engineers, we've been able to support the information-gathering needs of PeopleFirst.com as it has grown from 80 employees and 10 primary users of the Sagent product in 1999 to a 360-person operation with a BI user base approaching 100.
WEAKNESSES: With the growth of the warehouse, the expansion in the number of users and the number of canned reports we generate, we have noticed that the software does not provide a way to organize and arrange the reports. They basically just appear as a long alphabetized list. We've also found the graphing functionality on the front-end server side to not be as robust as our users now require.
SELECTION CRITERIA: The main reason we selected the Sagent platform was our need for an integrated product that could not only scale as our company grew, but also as the usage of the toolset within the company grew. We were looking for a flexible and open architecture for our ETL processes, and we were already a Microsoft shop. We needed something that could run on and integrate easily with our existing platform.
DELIVERABLES: What we're able to do with the Sagent product is incrementally build toward our goal of providing an enterprise-wide data warehouse. We've taken an iterative approach to our warehouse development, and we've followed a basic star schema design. Now we can deliver to the company a series of conformed, dimensional stars that support almost all areas of the business.
VENDOR SUPPORT: We've had very good support and experiences with the Sagent consultants that we've had on site, both during the initial install and also with subsequent upgrades. They've been very knowledgeable and supplied real-world experience. The technical support area has been helpful too, but they don't seem to have as much field experience as the consultants. Therefore, sometimes we need to speak to a couple people to get questions answered. I do feel that the knowledge and expertise of the consultants that were on site during the implementation really set us up for our success.
DOCUMENTATION: What we've used of the documentation has been relatively helpful, but we haven't really had to rely on it a whole lot. We've been to some of the training sessions and also have a number of people on staff with solid grounding in ETL/reporting tools.
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