BACKGROUND: Northwood Inc. is a major integrated forest products company located in Prince George, British Columbia. Northwood operates five lumber mills, a pulp mill, a plywood mill and a treated wood plant, all located in the interior of northern British Columbia. The company also operates a forest center and nursery, which produces approximately eight million seedlings a year.

PLATFORMS: Northwood utilizes a Microsoft Access database running on a networked Pentium 133.

PROBLEM SOLVED: For a young seedling, surrounding vegetation can be deadly. In order to protect its investment, Northwood had to apply for herbicide permits on a case-by-case basis to control vegetation and protect newly planted trees. In 1997, the government of British Columbia changed the law so timber companies could submit a pre-planned, integrated pest management plan for approval, eliminating the need for individual permits. Before developing the plan, Northwood had to determine under which conditions a tree was threatened by vegetation and when it was necessary to apply herbicide. In order to accurately define standards and thresholds for vegetation management, Northwood had to identify patterns among the numerous variables in a database of 15,000 trees, containing data collected over nine years. Northwood enlisted the help of Scientificals Consulting, experts in data analysis, to mine the data with Cognos' business intelligence tool, Scenario.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Cognos Scenario is designed to spot patterns and exceptions in data and allows users to visualize the information being uncovered in graphs or classification trees. This guided business intelligence mining tool automates the discovery, ranking and presentation of critical factors. Through Scenario's intuitive user interface, Northwood was able to quickly and easily identify factors which affect tree mortality, while highlighting unexpected factors and refining its understanding of the elements contributing to growth.

STRENGTHS: The amount and range of data was challenging: a land mass larger than England, several classes of vegetation and trees and a variety of ecosystems all had to be taken into account in preparing a plan. Scenario allowed Northwood and Scientificals Consulting to rapidly identify patterns and hone them down to understandable rules. Scenario's graphical views, drill-down details, presentation flexibility and robust data mining techniques enabled Northwood to make better, more-informed decisions in managing its forests.

WEAKNESSES: Because Northwood and Scientificals Consulting were working with Cognos Scenario version 1.0, they were unable to factor in categorical data. Scenario 2.0, the most recent version, offers categorical target capabilities, allowing users to work with "excellent, good, average, poor" designations instead of numerics, as an example.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Scientificals Consulting recommended Cognos Scenario based on the product's ease of use and ability to quickly access and analyze large amounts of data. The option of presenting information visually was also important to Northwood.

DELIVERABLES: Northwood used Cognos Scenario to identify patterns of tree mortality and growth and rank critical factors in a tree's ability to reach maturity. Based on the information mined from the data through Scenario, Northwood was able to outline at what thresholds trees were under-performing. With this knowledge, Northwood drew up an integrated pest management plan that was approved by the government of British Columbia. Northwood is now better able to manage vegetation, while using less herbicide and seeing more trees reach full growth.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Cognos was very responsive during development.

DOCUMENTATION: The on-line documentation is thorough, simplifying installation and use.

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