Cost pressures lead property manager to business intelligence

Stuck between a cost-cutting government boss and declining revenue, the British Columbia Buildings Corp. is betting on business intelligence to help the public sector property manager re-invent itself as an efficient, competitive business.


May, Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government, following the lead of the Harris Tories in Ontario and the Klein Tories in Alberta, rode a platform of small government to landslide victory in British Columbia.

Campbell has since delivered on his promises, cutting taxes and slashing the provincial government’s workforce. Government departments, says BCBC information services director Lauro Vives, have to prove their worth if they hope to survive.

“”Every government agency has to go through a core services review,”” Vives says, explaining the new pressure on accountability. “”The principles of this government are four things: competition, choice, sound fiscal management and customer service.””

The belt-tightening is especially rigorous for the BCBC as the crown corporation has to become more fiscally responsible even as its revenue drops. The eighth largest property manager in Canada, the BCBC secures government agencies leases for building and land, meaning its client base shrinks as the government shrinks.

Vives plans to counteract an anticipated revenue drop of 14 per cent or $60 million over the next three years with a technology-dependent cost-cutting plan that includes a business intelligence solution from Cognos Inc.

The BCBC has been using the Cognos solution, which includes DesicionStream, Impromtu, Visualalizer and PowerPlay Web applications, for about a year. The products are part of an effort to bring together BCBC’s own departments and reduce the reliance on IS staff for completing reports.

Because BCBC departments like portfolio management, leasing and pricing policy had developed their own reporting systems, Vives’ IS staff was spending 20 to 30 per cent of their time preparing reports. And the disparate sets of data made it tough for departments to coordinate.

“”The pricing policy director got frustrated because he didn’t know what he should base his pricing on,”” Vives says, explaining data from one department could be five days old while data from another department would be a month old.

He adds the Cognos solution, which cost about $400,000, is able to extract information from the legacy or “”rogue”” systems, and define and then visualize the data.

“”It centralizes the reporting and retires some of these rogue systems we have,”” Vives says.

Vives says his near-term goal is to reduce the amount of IS time spent on reports to 10 per cent, with users eventually retaining the ability to do reports themselves. Realizing efficiencies will become increasingly important for the BCBC as government agencies will have the option of turning to private property managers in three years time, he says.

Anil Dilawri, marketing manager for Cognos’ query and reporting products, says public sector organizations are looking for cost savings through business intelligence as readily as private sector companies, especially given the increasing focus on austerity by governments the world over. Cognos other public sector customers include Australia’s Department of Defence and the City of Albuquerque, N.M., whose Cognos solution allows police officers in the field to query their force’s warrant database.

“”Our public service customers are saying, ‘We run just like any other organization. We have budgets. We have to be efficient. We want to become more efficient and effective.'””

The BCBC plans to mitigate its coming openness to competition by getting involved in private-public partnerships and increasing its presence in the education and health care sectors. But Vives also knows the BCBC will have to become a leaner organization, relying more on technology and less on people.

He says the reporting offered by Cognos is necessary to meet government demands for accountability but will also be needed three years from now, when potential customers will want to take a close look at BCBC data. “”So we’ve got to clean up our act,”” he says.””

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