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More Reporting, Fewer Reports

Web-based tool from Actuate Corporation simplifies financial and expense reporting through customization and "parameterizing" of features.

Business agility depends partly on how quickly executives can get accurate financial information and act on it. Traditional reporting methods have often meant long batch cycles and poorly targeted reporting.

"In the old days, you'd get the data perhaps once a month and it would be very difficult to manage expenses," comments Paolo Mancini, assistant vice president of information delivery and reporting, MetLife (New York, $302.5 billion in assets). "We wanted shorter batch cycles and dynamic parameter-driven reports so that, instead of having 100 different reports essentially giving the same information," the user can enter parameters of time period and cost center and receive just the information required, Mancini adds.

Enterprise Portal

The first step toward that goal was to build internally an enterprise reporting portal to serve as a single entry point for users to access information via the Web. "We wanted seamless and secure access to financial and expense data, allowing different users to go into a portal and get the information they needed. We wanted to make sure that the business user was empowered," Mancini says. "We believe report development belongs with the business, so we want to make sure that, with IT support, the business can build and own reports and publish them within the portal."

Beneath the top portal layer, a financial and expense tool, among others, would be integrated in a middle layer, beneath which all the carrier's datamarts would sit. In seeking the tool, "one of the key things we looked at was how the product was architected," Mancini says. Other requirements were robust Web-based reporting, page-level security and page-at-a-time rendering.

To give business users a seamless experience, "we wanted something that would integrate into the portal and become part of a delivery mechanism," Mancini says. "We also wanted to leverage our database assets."

MetLife chose Actuate Corp.'s (South San Francisco) Actuate 5 product for its open architecture and other "best-of-breed" features. "Actuate fit our environment and had the same objectives we did," Mancini says. "You enter a cost center and date, and it dynamically creates a report specifically for you rather than one giant thing that you have to navigate through."

In addition to Actuate 5.0's front-end presentation layer, "it gives you an API application programming interface that you can manipulate and customize as necessary so you can fit it into an existing environment," Mancini adds.

An implementation requiring two separate efforts began in fall 2000. The first part was integration of the tool, involving "standard implementation, installment software and customizing the tool to fit seamlessly into the environment," he says. "The other part was the report development process, working with the business group to develop the reports and the user interface," according to Mancini.

Immediate Access

Since Actuate 5.0 went live in April 2001, it has had the paradoxical result that "while there is more reporting, there are fewer reports," Mancini says. "We're able to develop one report that used to be 100 reports, and it can be 'parameterized' so you can pull out exactly what you want."

Financial and expense reports are now available to managers enterprisewide over the Web, with much of the data immediately accessible. "The business has really taken ownership of these reports and publishes them on their own timetable, while we're now just providing support," Mancini says. MetLife is now considering Actuate 6.0 for its scalability, load-balancing and clustering capabilities—"important features for an enterprise level tool," Mancini says.



MetLife, New York, $302.5 billion in assets.


Group and individual life, multi-line P&C.


Actuate Corp's (South San Francisco) Actuate 5.


Provide online, near real-time access to financial and expense information.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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