CIO of The Month: BI Different, BI Special

We are in the Process of Implementing BI

Samrat Ashim Das, chief information officer, TATA AIG Life Insurance Company

BI is one tool that is beneficial for any company that implements it, be it the automotive industry or an insurance industry. BI as a tool is important as it churns out data enabling a company to chalk out the road ahead for its organization. With its ability to shape the future of an organization, BI thus becomes a tool of great importance. Apart from its benefits, it has now become mandatory for companies to implement the BI tool and take them to a new horizon.

BI as a basic business driver has beneficial effects on both the top line and the bottom line. In relation to the top line, the use of BI ensures enhancement of business revenues. Meanwhile in the perspective of bottom line, the use of BI enables organizations to understand cost structures and design a future roadmap for the organization. This in itself highlights why BI is in the limelight.

Insurance being a information-driven industry, there is a need for a data maturity model in place before the implementation of BI. Currently, we have approximately 39 lakh policyholders thus highlighting the sea of data that rests with us. And also signifies the need for a structured roadmap to be chalked out before the implementation of BI, says Samrat Ashim Das, CIO, TATA AIG Life Insurance Company.

Before the implementation of BI, the amount of historical data that the company deals with has to be considered; BI and analytics should supplement and compliment each other; and the application portfolio needs to be considered. Being an 11-year-old company, it is putting the system in place as a lot of data accumulation has taken place. The next stage of data simplification has also been done, and are in the process of putting the process of analytics in place. Talking about the organization, Das says, We do a lot of predictive analysis for our business. But in relation to the Indian context the data is not mature.

BI churns out the important data and helps the management take the company to the next level. But as BI has now become a mandate, even we are in the process of implementing the same. It will take us 6-12 months for the process of implementation of BI to be completed, informs Das. As a word of caution for all CIOs, Das reminds that data quality should be structured, as any weak link there could result in the failure of the BI exercise.

The Real Picture

Manoj Sharma, VP, IT, Jones Lang La Salle

When it comes to the real estate industry, unlike perception, it isnt that tech savvy. However being a global consultant company, Jones Lang La Salle certainly is far more tech savvy, spending approximately 4-5% of its annual revenues globally on IT.

Business Intelligence until now was not a part of our strategic investments, although we have been aggressive on CRM, says Manoj Sharma, VP, IT, Jones Lang La Salle. Although Sharma agrees that CRM is at the basic level and the next obvious step for businesses is to start thinking how to utilize the collated data and convert that into intelligent information.

In last three years, the company was heavily investing in its CRM application for sales cycle consolidation. However BI would be the need of the hour now as it prepares to launch its residential line of business.

The business analysts would now need BI, especially as we expand in India. In a highly volatile market conditions, business will make decisions on future plans on the basis of previous market dynamics knowledge, says Sharma. However he goes on to add further that even though it doesnt have BI application or software ready in place, but it certainly is thinking in that direction.

BI is certainly gaining momentum in verticals wherein there is large quantities of data coming in and there is an urgent need to convert the unstructured data into relevant, intelligent information like retail, FMCG, and telecom industry.

Currently, Jones Lang La Salle is using MS-CRM and the plan is to create layer of BI on top of the CRM. We are currently in the process of developing a CRM tool in-house for residential business line, and in another 6-9 months time frame it will be ready for deployment, he adds.

Advising CIOs keen to deploy BI solutions, Sharma offers a word of cautionthe challenge is that each market is different; while most companies have lots of data coming in, it is interesting to note that how to convert this data into an intelligent platform.

As a CIO, be as close to business and understand the pain areas before making investment in BI, Sharma adds. Certainly not at its peak adoption levels, BI is expected to become mainstream in the next 2-3 years.

BI Driving Business

Kamal Sharma, group CIO, Mindlance

The three major factors that drive the implementation strategy in any organization include: improving the business processes, compiling financial results, and gathering and analyzing relevant customer information. Irrespective of the size, any company can benefit immensely from a robust business intelligence strategy, which includes understanding of the proper use of information, says Kamal Sharma, Mindlance.

Sharma believes that BI can have a greater impact on a companys business performance by drastically improving its ability to accomplish the business mission by making smarter decisions at every level of the business right from the corporate strategy to operational processes. In fact, he is already looking forward to deriving these benefits in his organization once he implements BI and analytics for their ITIM and consulting verticals leveraging the benefits of BI such as significant cost savings, greater control over information, and better alignment with the business users.

Understanding the growth opportunity and the aligned business advantages, Sharma cautions a word of adviceFor any BI plan to be successful, the information and subsequent analysis must be workable, and should also impact performance while abiding by the strategic plans of the organization. Also, the BI strategy should address various issues like performance metrics, people, and processes since BI applications have a high impact on your business strategy and objectives, he adds.

One of major impediments with the implementation process is looking at the operations and bringing structured data into a centralized data store to be used as the base for an analytics framework. Due to the increasing complexity of decision making and larger and broader data sets, unstructured data is becoming an important concern for many organizations. Also, with so many diverse applications of BI and analytics, organizations may not see the value of including unstructured data as part of their business intelligence framework. Once a company is successfully applying analytics within their company, the question of how to take BI to the next level arises. The reality is that retaining a continual competitive edge requires a plan that includes constant evaluation and improvement, says Sharma.

BI solution can help CIOs in making dynamic business decisions by having accurate, current, and relevant information available; harnessing business power with near instant response time on massive data volumes; and meeting customer expectationsbased on factual information and find problems by building a picture of the information that is not be achievable otherwise and hence gain competitive advantages.

Maturity and Delivery Take Time

S Kapil Mehrotra, head, applications, iYogi

Today BI and analytics being the buzzwords of the IT industry, the role of CIO has become more challenging. Conceptually, the use of BI at all the levels in the organization sounds very promising and credible for the business growth, but IT heads are still figuring out how and where to implement it and make its optimum use. Reflecting on this, Kapil Mehrotra, head, applications, iYogi, says, Before the deployment of BI, correct data sources have to be identified in sync with the business objective. BI cannot perform any miracle or deliver results instantly. The system takes its own time to stabilize due to multiple iterations.

CIOs also face a huge challenge in convincing their management to use BI and analytics, when there are other applications also running in the organization. This leads to the integration of BI and analytics with the existing applications, which is a difficult task to achieve. In addition to this, Cognos itself poses certain limitations owing to it standard features to process results. Therefore, additional cost is incurred in working on data provided by the users to be used for BI eventually.

Cost is another factor to be considered by the CIOs, if BI has to be used at all the levels, even if it is successful at some levels. Scalability becomes a problem as licensing is very expensive. Mehrotra adds, Along with cost and scalability, another alarming issue is talent crunch in India due to which attrition is very high, which adds further to the woes of a CIO. Furthermore, they cannot completely rely on BI when multiple applications are creating various types of data.

However BI and analytics create robust and 80% credible reports with value addition, but chances of using the-not-so-appropriate logic or data source can give faulty results.

To avoid pitfalls, CIOs are trying to work out the dynamics in such a manner that they make the best of this situation by running parallel systems like data warehouse and SaaS for data mining. Mehrotra further adds, the need for BI and analytics is 5 times more in some organizations; but, building a system, its manageability, and for the credibility of reports, deployment should be done in a phased manner.

Clarity in business objective to identify correct data source and defining logic for BI and analytics are as important as awareness about them, and not just limited to IT department.

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