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Designs of Intelligence

As companies extend business-intelligence software to the masses, they should think before they deploy.

Culture Counts

Whether a company establishes a formal
competency center or not, senior finance
executives have had enough exposure to BI
software in its many forms to understand
that a company’s culture will shape just
how quickly and how far the technology
can expand. When Dan McGowan, vice
president of financial reporting and analysis
at Southeast Corporate Federal Credit
Union, arrived at the company three and a
half years ago, “we had very antiquated systems — in fact, I’m being generous to even
refer to them as systems.” He found that it
was relatively easy to get the finance team
to handle internal and statutory reporting
on a new performance-management system
(from Applix), but when he then tried
to roll out certain BI capabilities to the
investment and human-resources groups,
he realized that “people differ greatly in
basic PC proficiency. Some people aren’t
even sure how to open a spreadsheet file.”

While the company did offer some
training in the form of one-on-one sessions
McGowan conducted, he says that
“successful organizations are marked by
people who are naturally curious and willing
to try new things.” He agrees with a
fundamental tenet of the competency center
approach, however, in that “leadership
in BI and performance management
has to come from people who understand
both the business entity and the capabilities
of the latest tools.” McGowan got a
look at that firsthand when his company’s
IT department took an early stab at building
a data warehouse. “Their intentions
were good,” he says, “but few employees
understood how to use the system or even
why they would want to.”

At mortgage insurer The PMI Group,
CFO Donald Lofe says that to improve
financial planning and analysis throughout
the company, “we needed to get better
IT capabilities to the troops” in the
form of BI software (from Cognos) to
drive the firm’s strategic planning “from
the ground up.” Lofe says the firm offered
various levels of training depending on an
employee’s needs, and, more important,
“we made sure we had constant phone
support from either a PMI staffer or a vendor
employee so that absolutely no question
went unanswered.” The goal, he says,
was to keep post-training momentum
high by addressing any concerns or questions
immediately, so that employees
developed an affinity for the new software.

At the same time, customers are pushing
vendors to make such software simpler.
“It has to be easy,” says John Kennedy,
controller for the locomotive and rail-car
services unit of Progress Rail Services, “or
people won’t use it.” In his view, corporate
software should follow a consumer model.
“I can look online at the stocks I own,” he
says, “and get a very clear snapshot. We
want people to be able to look at scorecards
and similar systems from anywhere
and get that same quick take.” The company’s
executives are now using BI software
from SAS Institute and exploring the
option of rolling it out to managers at
nearly 100 facilities around the country.

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