A national insurance organization has rolled out a $200,000 business intelligence solution that allows it create ad hoc reports from billions of records in seconds rather than weeks.

Working with Microsoft technology partner GHI Technologies, the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association (OMIA), which provides statistical support and other services to more than 60 mutual insurance companies across southwestern Ontario and other parts of Canada, replaced its Oracle-based relational database environment with Microsoft SQL Server 2000 last November following a four-month pilot phase. GHI also implemented SQL Server Analysis on the back-end to streamline the report generation process and Data Analyzer on the front end to allow users to analyze business data and create custom reports.

“There was a lot of data that was based on a relational architecture, which is not that great for data presentation or pulling data out,” said Tom Kavouras, vice-president of business intelligence at GHI, adding these types of databases are better suited to collecting data. “What was really missing was that logical layer to accommodate better, faster reporting and better, faster analysis.”

OMIA members rely on quarterly data reports for sourcing profitable lines, conducting rate analysis, analyzing under-performing programs and spotting trends as well as for complying with government and industry reporting requirements. That’s why the association needed to come up with a more efficient tool to generate ad hoc reports on a more timely basis, Kavouras said.

“In order to create a new report there was quite a long development cycle and quite often it didn’t meet the business users’ timelines to build it, test it and deploy it,” said Rob Stickle, OMIA statistics and IS manager. “We were looking for a faster way to get the business information back into the business users hands.”

Prior to the implementation, OMIA, which was founded in 1882, had a client server system from which it produced reports in a PDF format that were either published on a Web site or e-mailed out to clients. Members could choose from 144 static reports on a password-protected area of the Web site, but they were between one to three months out of date because they were produced quarterly. 

“We’re now giving the business users access to the information when they need it,” said Stickle, adding there are approximately 70 users of the BI system. “They don’t have to come to us to generate a report. They just log on and create it themselves.”

In the past, to produce a report OMIA staff — there are 15 in total – would design and produce the report, which could take anywhere from two to four weeks – a task that now can be completed in under 10 seconds. To achieve this, SQL Server Analysis Services uses multi-dimensional Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) cubes from metrics in the data warehouse, helping OMIA and its members create and deliver scheduled reports and create custom reports. This has resulted in the reduction of the total number of reports needed from 144 to four and an 80 per cent reduction in custom report requests. 

On the front end, Data Analyzer integrates with Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint, making it easy to incorporate data from the report into spreadsheets, presentations and other corporate material, according to Microsoft.

“The solution was designed so that the type of analysis provided to the member companies requires tweaking for the individual companies,” said Kavouras. “There’s already plumbing that’s included in the solution that would allow it to easily be changed to be able to accommodate even more granular analysis company by company.”

For the next phase of the project, GHI is looking at implementing a Microsoft SharePoint Portal to enhance collaboration capabilities across the enterprise.

“The desktop of today is the usual desktop when people log in it’s a local desktop on their machine,” said Kavouras. “The desktop of tomorrow is going to be on a central Web server that the moment you log on it’s going to go, ‘Aha! It’s Tom.’ There’s going to be connectivity with the entire e-mail and the collaboration capability and all of the BI is going to be included in there.”

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