Article

Data warehouse case study: Midsized insurer goes enterprise with data warehouse

Jeff Kelly

Executives at New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Company (NYCM) knew the firm needed a formal data warehouse, but it took an outside consultant working on another project to get

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the ball rolling.

At the time -- mid-2005 -- NYCM was working with AXIS Integrated Solutions to help train staff on the Actuate reporting tool. As that project came to a close, the Edmeston, N.Y.-based firm turned its attention to its data management needs. Until then, NYCM, which sells home and auto insurance through a network of more than 1,000 independent agents, had no formal data warehouse and was using legacy databases to create reports for its agents in the field.

It was becoming difficult to keep up with NYCM's data-related needs, which were growing more complex by the day. "We essentially had a static reporting environment," said Steve Cembrinski, NYCM's senior vice president of information and technology.

NYCM was reluctant to pay for a big ticket implementation like Cognos or Oracle. Instead, AXIS and NYCM hoped that Burlington, Mass.-based Kalido -- which recently released its new Information Engine suite, combining its data modeling, data warehouse, and master data management offerings -- could supply a data warehouse robust enough to handle NYCM's growing data needs at an affordable price.

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Still, Cembrinski and his team were hesitant. In addition to the potentially high cost of deploying a comprehensive data warehouse, stories of other companies' failed data warehouse deployments gave them pause. But with the backing of AXIS, which had a long-standing working relationship with Kalido, and realizing that its current data management structure was simply not doing the job, NYCM decided to take a chance.

"Based on where we stand in the marketplace and where we need to be, we need to take a serious look at what our data can tell us about our business," Cembrinski said. "We need to delve deeper into what our experience has been."

Data quality-related bumps in the road

Kalido, it turns out, was taking a chance of its own with NYCM. While not among the BI heavyweights, Kalido is no slouch either, counting Shell, Philips and Unilever among its key accounts. With just over 1,000 employees and under $500 million in sales, NYCM was significantly smaller than most of Kalido's customers.

But the vendor gave NYCM a price break, Cembrinski said, in order to tap into the lucrative small and medium-sized businesses market. "They made it feasible for us to initiate a relationship with them," he said. "The accommodations helped the process." He declined to give detailed pricing information.

To begin the project, NYCM initiated a proof-of-concept to see whether Kalido's rapid deployment claims were "true to form," said Jim Fitzgerald, NYCM's business analytics program manager. NYCM gave Kalido a set of data to cleanse, a process Kalido said would take a week. Kalido eventually finished the process, and NYCM was happy with the results, but it took more than double the estimated time -- between two and three weeks.

"They're still a young company going through a steep evolutionary curve," Cembrinski said. "When you have a young company still expanding their customer base and improving their features, there's always going to be a few bumps in the road."

Despite not meeting its own timeline, Kalido impressed NYCM with its ability to handle the insurance company's disjointed data management systems and processes, and with its customer service. Kalido's president, Bill Hewitt, even visited NYCM's headquarters to reaffirm his commitment to the project, Cembrinski said -- a personal touch that went a long way with NYCM executives.

With the proof-of-concept complete, NYCM decided to sign on with Kalido and move forward with a full-scale data warehouse deployment in early 2006.

Two years later, data integration continues

NYCM has been working with Kalido on the project for the past two years, including cleansing NYCM's customer and financial data and integrating it via ETL tools into Kalido's Dynamic Information Warehouse. Later, NYCM plans to employ Kalido's master data management system as well.

Cembrinski hopes that with Business Objects reporting tools on the front end, NYCM insurance agents will eventually be able to self-generate reports and access data to identify new and better ways to serve the company's 500,000-plus customers throughout the Empire State.

He hopes, for example, that in upstate New York -- an area prone to weather-related emergencies during the long winters – staff and agents will be able to examine historical trends via the Kalido data warehouse to better prepare customers before a catastrophe happens. He also said Kalido's ad hoc query capabilities should help agents resolve insurance claims faster.

Despite the lengthy data cleansing and integration process, Cembrinski said he expects his patience to pay off in the end.

"We've still got a long way to go," he said. "We're kind of peeling the onion back here. What we're hoping is to service a lot of different needs -- strategic, operational, ad hoc reporting. The way the Kalido engine handles the data, we think Kalido's going to take us a long way down the road."


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