In the trenches: Benefits and pitfalls of deploying a BI system

In the trenches: Benefits and pitfalls of deploying a BI system

Date: Dec 15, 2010

At many companies, basic reporting or Excel-based business intelligence is the BI reality. The latter was the case at American Access Casualty Co., an auto insurer that had lots of pricing-related data but not in a form that was very useful, according to Kevin Rooney, formerly its CIO and now chief strategy officer.

“You could walk into our pricing analysts’ offices and see that they were buried in spreadsheets,” Rooney said during a keynote speech at last month’s TDWI World Conference in Orlando. “But the information wasn’t timely, and it was very siloed.” Analyzing what the company’s competitors were doing in the market and whether American Access should respond was a difficult prospect, he added.

In mid-2009, officials at the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based insurer decided that it was time to invest in a more structured business intelligence process. As CIO, Rooney led the deployment of a cloud-based BI system that includes a mix of internal data, U.S. census information and external auto insurance pricing records. Rooney said the BI system enables the pricing analysts to examine hundreds of millions of price points and generates real-time alerts when rivals change their rates, creating the potential to analyze information and answer competitive questions much more quickly than the company could do before.

But the expanded analytics capabilities didn’t come easy. After a 60-day proof-of-concept project and a four-month effort to quantify the BI system’s potential value and finalize the project plan, it took American Access nearly another 12 months to get to the point of filing proposed new pricing rates developed with the help of the system. And that’s in just one of the five states where the company currently does business.

In a video interview with SearchBusinessAnalytics.com after his conference keynote, Rooney discussed the rollout of the BI system, which utilizes Kognitio Ltd.’s analytic database and batch pricing software from Quomation Insurance Services Inc. Rooney detailed the system’s expected benefits as well as the challenges that American Access faced on the project and how it worked to overcome them.

Viewers of the seven-minute video will:

  • Hear what the BI system enables American Access to do that it couldn’t do before.
  • Get Rooney’s take on the importance of asking not just what new technologies can do but why an organization should invest in them.
  • See what the answer to that question was for his company in the case of the BI system.
  • Find out why American Access decided to go with a cloud-based approach to BI.
  • Learn about the bumps that the insurer hit on the project and how it responded to them.
  • Hear about the current status of the BI system and its projected benefits.
  • Get advice from Rooney on deploying new BI and analytics systems.
  • Discover what his new job as chief strategy officer at American Access involves.

Read the full text transcript from this video below. Please note the full transcript is for reference only and may include limited inaccuracies. To suggest a transcript correction, contact editor@searchbusinessanalytics.com.   

In the trenches: Benefits and pitfalls of deploying a BI system

Craig Stedman: Hi, I'm Craig Stedman, Site Editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics.com.
I'm at the TWDI World Conference 2010 in Orlando, and I'll be speaking
today with Kevin Rooney, Chief Strategy Officer at American Access Casualty
Company, an auto insurance firm based in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. As CIO and prior to taking on his current role at the company, Kevin led the
deployment of a cloud-based data warehousing and business intelligence
system designed for use by the company's pricing analysts and senior
management. Thanks for going on camera with us today, Kevin.

Kevin Rooney: Thank you.

Craig Stedman: So, what does the BI system enable your company to do that it
couldn't do before?

Kevin Rooney: The biggest thing is it's actually a really strong analysis of our
competition. So it allows us to know exactly what our competition is doing,
how they price, how they compare to us and specifically when they make a
change in the market, we're able to take that information, know what
strategies they've changed, how that's going to impact us, and determine
whether we need to respond from a pricing standpoint.

Craig Stedman: In a keynote speech at the conference here, you talked about the
importance of asking not just how new technologies can help a company but
why it would want to invest in them. Why do you think it's important for IT
managers to do that?

Kevin Rooney: I think it's the best dialogue between business and IT. We want to
go right into the solutions as far as our nature goes. We're implementers,
but the business really is looking at it from a customer basis, from a
bottom line basis, from a return on investment standpoint, and I think
why... First of all, it answers those kinds of questions, and then it
really sets the mission. If people understand why, they're much more
invested and they're way more bought into the process.

Craig Stedman: In the case of the BI system, what were the answers to those why
questions for American Access?

Kevin Rooney: Well, there are two big whys for us. One was that we needed to have
people like our analysts not just buried in data, we needed them to raise
their game and be invested in the business and really answer questions on
why they were doing what they're doing and why that would impact the
business. And then I'd say the second reason was we had markets that were
struggling. We had new markets that we didn't know what was happening and
why we weren't as competitive as we were in places that were familiar, and
we needed to understand that.

Craig Stedman: Why did you decide to go with a cloud-based approach, and were there
any qualms within the company beforehand about doing that?

Kevin Rooney: We're a relatively small company. We're a $90 million
revenue company with 13 IT professionals. For us to build this in-house,
there were a lot of gaps. There had been a large capital expenditure in
terms of architecture. There were gaps in terms of our skills internally to
be able to pull this off. We were able to partner with a vendor that was
able to supply that architecture, prove out the concept on their dime, and
help us figure out what the value was going to be once we started to drill
into the data and once we knew there was true value there from a business
standpoint, then we could move into production.

Craig Stedman: You talked in your keynote speech about hitting some bumps in the
road and the project timeline taking longer than you might have liked it
to. What kind of challenges did you run into along the way?

Kevin Rooney: I think one of the things was... A good thing was that it was
business led in terms of our pricing analysts and our undewriting and our marketing. It
took a lot of ownership in this, but it started to go astray as well in
terms of building report after report, and eventually they got themselves
lost in the details, just faster with a much more powerful tool. So that
extended some of our timelines and in some ways we had our analysts, who
were so used to being these data gatherers, were coming into a new role and
evolving in the change management of having them really think about the
business, took more time than we expected. We had to step back and say, OK,
let's focus again on the why. What are the three or four most important
things? Let's put some of the IT practices around this and make sure that
we really know change management, release management, a real good Q/A
process around this, and then we started to get back on track. We and our
vendor devoted some higher level skills just to make sure to get that back
on track.

Craig Stedman: What's the status of the BI system? Is it being used now, and what
kind of benefits are you getting from it or do you expect to get from it?

Kevin Rooney: It is being used. The benefits so far have been in understanding the
market, and we've spent a lot of time in the last couple weeks to really
finalize where we're going to price. So we'll be filing our rates in our
new markets this month, any day now if I check my BlackBerry, and what we
are forecasting is that in the market where we're really losing ground -
we're losing 10% year over year - we're budgeting a 20% growth actually
next year and about a 5% increase in margin.

Craig Stedman: Do you have any advice for other IT or BI teams that are working to
deploy data warehousing and BI systems, whether it's in the cloud or using
a conventional on-premise software?

Kevin Rooney: I think the biggest key is really a full fledged partnership between
your team, the business - and I mean the business sponsors and the people
who it affects day to day work and whatever vendors that you choose. If all
of those people are together and they're understanding why they're doing
it, you figure out the how as a team.

Craig Stedman: Finally, what does your new job as Chief Strategy Officer involve, and
was that a career path that you had previously envisioned for yourself as a
person who started in IT?

Kevin Rooney: It's an evolving role. Basically, it allows me to be able to see
where things are going from other industries and see which things we can
leverage and do better in our organization. It was a career path in some
ways because I was doing a little bit as a CIO, but it was just an
opportunity to dedicate more time to that kind of research and vision about
where we need to go.

Craig Stedman: OK, great. Kevin, thanks very much for your time. I really
appreciate it.

Kevin Rooney:  Thank you.

Craig Stedman: You can find more information about BI and analytics topics on
SearchBusinessAnalytics.com, including news and trend stories, tips and
advice, videos, podcasts, and more. Thanks for watching and have a great
day.

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