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Great American Unifies Business Intelligence on IBM Cognos Platform

In consolidating systems for enterprise business intelligence, Great American discovers that demonstrating business value is critical to accelerating adoption of a single BI tool.

In Depth: Business Intelligence and Risk. Business intelligence makes insurers more-competitive risk managers. Overcoming Barriers to Integrated Risk Management. Insurers Challenged to Adopt Business Intelligence.

Though Great American Insurance (GAIC)had an appetite for business intelligence (BI), expressed in the demand for reporting and the diffusion of BI technology across the enterprise, the Cincinnati-based company lacked a unified approach to BI, until the carrier consolidated on IBM's Cognos BI platform in 2006. By then GAIC management decided that its aging reporting technology wasn't meeting business needs, according to Mark Schlafman, manager of business intelligence, GAIC ($4.4 billion in annual revenue).

The carrier's main reporting tool, Information Builders' Focus, was purchased in 1984; various departments subsequently implemented other tools, including IBM Cognos, which was first licensed in the late 1990s, according to Schlafman. But, he says, the situation was unacceptable for an organization that intended to drive results through consistent and readily available intelligence. "We had no BI team per se, just a reporting team," Schlafman relates. "Someone would call in a report, and they would put it in the queue to get printed out. No one went out and engaged the business."

The legacy process caused significant waste of both paper and time, and left users as mere consumers rather than creators of BI, Schlafman laments.

In mid-2006, however, senior management gave Schlafman the nod to purchase a BI tool on which to consolidate in order to enhance the company's capabilities and empower users. "What empowerment means to us is that our users are independent of IT, able to create their own analyses and able to do their own reporting, analytics and scorecarding," Schlafman elaborates.

Focusing on end-user needs, GAIC assembled a selection team that included IT but was two-thirds business executives. "The technology people really only cared about the administrative side and whether the solution would interface with the back end," Schlafman explains, "so their vote didn't count as much."

Toward the end of 2006, Schlafman reports, GAIC asked its three finalists -- Cognos, Business Objects (now Waldorf, Germany-based SAP) and inetSoft (Piscataway, N.J.) -- to perform sample analytics tasks and demonstrate their solutions' abilities to integrate both to a portal environment and to other tools, such as Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) Office and SharePoint. On the last business day of the year, the carrier signed a contract to purchase IBM Cognos. GAIC implemented IBM Cognos 8 in 2007, followed by a quick upgrade to 8.2, according to Schlafman.

Year of Challenges

But whereas thousands of users had accessed the previous installation of IBM Cognos, the enterprise implementation of IBM Cognos 8.2 had only 99 users by the end of 2007, despite participation of key business areas in the selection process, Schlafman notes. "In 2007 we only had three reports in Cognos 8.2," he recalls.

That changed in 2008. Before the end of the year, the user count on IBM Cognos 8.2 increased 200 percent, and the report count jumped by 1,053 percent, according to Schlafman. Among the factors driving adoption were rollout to six business units, intensive education efforts and shutting off most legacy systems.

One of Schlafman's most important approaches to accelerating adoption, he relates, has been demonstrating the value of the tool to the business. "We have showcased Cognos as one of the three critical technology components of our agency portal, along with SharePoint and Web services," Schlafman says.

Parallel to adoption efforts, Schlafman reconstituted his BI team to focus on delivering further value to the business, including analytical reporting capabilities directed at improving risk management. For example, this year the team will deliver to GAIC's underwriters a Customer Experience report that shows premium, claims, pricing and loss-ratio information associated with individual risks.

"It integrates 10 to 15 standard reports that underwriters currently use to examine underwriting risk," Schlafman says. "We're looking to integrate the report with [IBM's] FileNet to push it into an online folder so that when an underwriter comes to his desk, he opens a single file and sees what was formerly spread across several reports."

4 Keys to BI Adoption at GAIC

1. Senior management buy-in.

2. Business area participation in selection process.

3. Educating end users.

4. Demonstrating value to the business early and often.

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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