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Business intelligence ramps up the power for business users

Financial data was the first area addressed by the system. "As a longtime Oracle customer, we were able to leverage a lot of data from our enterprise system," Lichtefeld says. "Some of the data is still coming from spreadsheets, but rather than being dealt with manually, the spreadsheets are put on a shared network drive and the BI software picks it up from there."

The Oracle BI solution displays data on a dashboard that is tailored to the employee's role. "The biggest benefit that we are seeing, which is what we had hoped for, is that executive directors of the individual units can see data at the level of their operations, the regional manager can view it from that level and so on," adds Lichtefeld. In the past, the information was available in theory, yet not readily accessible. "Now, in 20 minutes, our employees can look at the main metrics for their business activities," he says.

A dashboard shows the five business areas, with a green indicator if all performance targets are being met, and red if there is a problem. If trouble is indicated, the user can drill down to find the specific source. The dashboard layout is identical for each user, but the default data shown is appropriate to his or her level. Some of the performance measures are shown as bar charts and others as pie charts.

Initially, the plan was to focus on the financial data portion of the scorecard, because the BI system could connect to the Oracle data quickly. But before the system was launched, ResCare decided that it wanted to include all the elements of the scorecard. "We are a service business," Lichtefeld explains. "We believe that providing quality services is equally important with cost-effectiveness, so we delayed the project in order to incorporate all the metrics, including customer satisfaction."

The data is refreshed from the data warehouse each evening, to provide daily updates for one of the lines of business. For other units, the updates take place at varying times. "Rather than seeking real-time monitoring, we aim at ‘right time' measures and a single version of the truth," Lichtefeld says.

Oracle's Business Intelligence Suite offers the advantage of being able to integrate readily with financial data contained in other Oracle systems. Its scalability and strength in handling complex analytics also make it attractive to organizations that want the options of extending their BI applications over time.

Real-time Web data for enhanced BI

Increasingly, information that could be valuable to have in BI systems is available on the Web, but extracting it for inclusion in data warehouses is difficult. Kapow Katalyst Platform from Kapow Software is an application integration product that performs extraction, transformation and integration from any Web-based data source without needing an API. "We work with BI vendors to get data that is important but cannot be obtained through traditional means," says Stefan Andreasen, CTO and founder of Kapow Software.

Kapow Katalyst provides real-time information for applications such as competitive and financial intelligence. "Katalyst can automate any repetitive tasks on the Web, such as navigating through pages on a website and extracting and transforming pricing data for cameras, for example," Andreasen says. "A company can then use that information to adjust its own prices to be more competitive." Kapow Katalyst can also seek out and extract qualitative data from social media, imposing metadata such as date, title and author name as well as removing "noise" such as ads and navigation.

As another example, Fiserv, which provides technology solutions to financial institutions, is using Kapow Katalyst to automate access to external financial accounts. Prior to using Katalyst, four people were logging into 300 Web banking

applications and manually copying data into spreadsheets. The process took a week and ran the risk of errors. By using the solution, each bank was in effect converted into an ETL feed and the data was available in near real time.

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