In the trenches: Benefits and pitfalls of deploying a BI system

In the trenches: Benefits and pitfalls of deploying a BI system

Date: Dec 21, 2010

At many companies, basic reporting or Excel-based business intelligence is the BI reality. The latter was the case at American Access Casualty Co., an auto insurer that had lots of pricing-related data but not in a form that was very useful, according to Kevin Rooney, formerly its CIO and now chief strategy officer.

“You could walk into our pricing analysts’ offices and see that they were buried in spreadsheets,” Rooney said during a keynote speech at last month’s TDWI World Conference in Orlando. “But the information wasn’t timely, and it was very siloed.” Analyzing what the company’s competitors were doing in the market and whether American Access should respond was a difficult prospect, he added.

In mid-2009, officials at the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based insurer decided that it was time to invest in a more structured business intelligence process. As CIO, Rooney led the deployment of a cloud-based BI system that includes a mix of internal data, U.S. census information and external auto insurance pricing records. Rooney said the BI system enables the pricing analysts to examine hundreds of millions of price points and generates real-time alerts when rivals change their rates, creating the potential to analyze information and answer competitive questions much more quickly than the company could do before.

But the expanded analytics capabilities didn’t come easy. After a 60-day proof-of-concept project and a four-month effort to quantify the BI system’s potential value and finalize the project plan, it took American Access nearly another 12 months to get to the point of filing proposed new pricing rates developed with the help of the system. And that’s in just one of the five states where the company currently does business.

In a video interview with SearchBusinessAnalytics.com after his conference keynote, Rooney discussed the rollout of the BI system, which utilizes Kognitio Ltd.’s analytic database and batch pricing software from Quomation Insurance Services Inc. Rooney detailed the system’s expected benefits as well as the challenges that American Access faced on the project and how it worked to overcome them.

Viewers of the seven-minute video will:

  • Hear what the BI system enables American Access to do that it couldn’t do before.
  • Get Rooney’s take on the importance of asking not just what new technologies can do but why an organization should invest in them.
  • See what the answer to that question was for his company in the case of the BI system.
  • Find out why American Access decided to go with a cloud-based approach to BI.
  • Learn about the bumps that the insurer hit on the project and how it responded to them.
  • Hear about the current status of the BI system and its projected benefits.
  • Get advice from Rooney on deploying new BI and analytics systems.
  • Discover what his new job as chief strategy officer at American Access involves.

Read the full text transcript from this video below. Please note the full transcript is for reference only and may include limited inaccuracies. To suggest a transcript correction, contact editor@searchbusinessanalytics.com.   

In the trenches: Benefits and pitfalls of deploying a BI system

Craig Stedman: Hello. I am Craig Stedman, the Site Editor of
SearchBusinessAnalytics.com. I am at the TDWI World
Conference 2010 in Orlando, and I will be speaking today
with Kevin Rooney, Chief Strategy Officer at American Access
Casualty Company, an auto insurance firm based in Oakbrook
Terrace, Illinois. As CIO, and prior to taking on his current role
at the company, Kevin led the deployment of a cloud-based
data warehousing and business intelligence system designed
for use by the company's pricing analysts and senior
management. Thank you for going on camera with us
today, Kevin.

Kevin Rooney: Thank you.

Craig Stedman: What does the BI system enable your company
to do that it could not do before?

Kevin Rooney: The biggest thing is it is actually a really strong
analysis of our competition, so it allows us to know exactly what
our competition is doing, how they price, and how they compare
to us. Specifically, when they make a change in the market, we
are able to take that information, know what strategies they have
changed, how that is going to impact us, and determine whether
we need to respond, from a price tag standpoint.

Craig Stedman: In a keynote speech at the conference here,
you talked about the importance of asking, not just how new
technologies can help a company, but why it would want to
invest in them. Why do you think it is important for IT managers
to do that?

Kevin Rooney: I think it is the best dialog between business and IT.
We want to go right into the solutions, as far as our nature goes,
we are implementers. The business really is looking at it from a
customer basis, from a bottom line basis, from a return on investment
standpoint. I think why, first of all, it answers those kinds of questions,
and it really sets the mission. If people understand why, they are much
more invested, and they are way more bought into the process.

Craig Stedman: In the case of the BI system, what were the
answers to those why questions for American Access?

Kevin Rooney: There is two big whys for us. One was that we
needed to have people like our analysts not just buried in data.
We needed them to raise their game and be invested in the business,
and really answer questions on why they were doing what they were
doing and why that would impact the business. I would say the second
reason was we had markets where we were struggling. There were
new markets that we did not know what was happening and why we
were not as competitive as we were in places that we were familiar,
and we needed to understand that.

Craig Stedman: Why did you decide to go with a cloud-based
approach, and were there any qualms within the company
beforehand about doing that?

Kevin Rooney: We are a relatively small company. We are an under
$1 million revenue company, 13 IT professionals. For us to build this
in-house, there were a lot of gaps. There would have been a large
capital expenditure, in terms of architecture; there were gaps, in
terms of our skills internally to be able to pull this off. We were able
to partner with a vendor that was able to supply that architecture,
prove out the concept on their dime, and help us figure out what the
value was going to be once we started to drill into the data. Once we
knew there was true value there, from a business standpoint, then
we could move into production.

Craig Stedman: You talked in your keynote speech about hitting
some bumps in the road, and the project timeline taking longer
than you might have liked it to. What kind of challenges did you
run into along the way?

Kevin Rooney: I think one of the things was, a good thing was that
it was business-led, in terms of our pricing analysts, underwriting,
and our marketing took a lot of ownership in this, but started to go
astray, as well, in terms of building report after report. Eventually,
they got themselves lost in the details, just faster with a much more
powerful tool, so that extended some of our timelines. In some ways
we had our analysts, who were so used to being these data gatherers,
were coming into a new role and evolving in the change management of
having them really think about the business took more time than we expected.

We had to step back and say, ‘OK. Let us focus again on the ‘why’.
What are the three or four most important things? Let us put some
of the IT practices around this and make sure that we really know
change management, release management, and a real good QA
process around this,’ and we started to get back on track. We and
our vendor devoted some higher level skills just to make sure to
get that back on track.

Craig Stedman: What is the status of the BI system? Is it
being used now? What kind of benefits are you getting from
it, or do you expect to get from it?

Kevin Rooney: It is being used. The benefits so far have been
in understanding the market, and we have spent a lot of time
in the last couple weeks to really finalize where we are going
to price. So we will be filing our rates in our new markets this
month, any day now, if I check my Blackberry. What we are
forecasting is in the market where we were really losing ground;
we were losing 10% year-over-year. We are budgeting a 20%
growth actually, next year, and about a 5% increase in margin.

Craig Stedman: Do you have any advice for other IT or BI
teams that are working to deploy data warehousing and BI
systems, whether it is in the cloud or they are using conventional
on-premise software?

Kevin Rooney: I think the biggest key is really a full-fledged
partnership between your team, the business, I mean, the
business sponsors and the people who it effects day-to-day work,
and whatever vendors that you choose. If all of those people are
together and they are understanding why they are doing it, you
figure out the ‘how’ as a team.

Craig Stedman: Finally, what does your new job as Chief Strategy
Officer involve? Was that a career path that you had previously
envisioned for yourself, as a person who started in IT?

Kevin Rooney: It is an evolving role. Basically, it allows me to be
able to see where things are going from other industries, and see
which things we can leverage and do better in our organization.
It was a career path, in some ways out there, it is what I was
doing a little bit as a CIO, but it was just an opportunity to
dedicate more time to that kind of research and vision about
where we needed to go.

Craig Stedman: Great. Kevin, thank you very much for your time.
I really appreciate it.

Kevin Rooney: Thank you.

Craig Stedman: You can find more information about BI and
analytics topics on SearchBusinessAnalytics.com, including news,
trend stories, tips, advice, videos, podcasts, and more. Thank you
for watching, and have a great day.

 

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