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BI competency center helps Italian company find efficiencies, share solutions

A business intelligence (BI) competency center helped CSI-Piemonte centralize its data analytics and integration functions and improve efficiency.

When the SAS Institute Inc. debuted version nine of its core business intelligence (BI) software four years ago, Paola Leproni knew upgrading the technology throughout her organization, CSI-Piemonte, would be no easy task.

A consortium of over 60 groups with more than 1,200 employees, CSI-Piemonte boasts an intricate mix of data sources and analytic applications that all needed to be upgraded, according to Leproni, the company's project manager.

The solution? She decided to create a BI competency center (BICC) to streamline both front-end and back-end BI functions, including data quality, metadata management, and report writing.

Based in Turin, Italy, CSI-Piemonte helps more than 50 local public administration organizations, including the region of Piemonte and the city of Turin, analyze and understand demographic and other regional data to better serve their citizens. For example, it uses the SAS Enterprise Intelligence Platform to let local doctors integrate and analyze prescription data to make sure World Health Organization guidelines are followed.

Rather than assigning BI-related tasks in a haphazard way, Leproni hoped a BICC could centralize those functions, improve operational efficiency and make it easier to share best BI practices throughout her organization.

"Because we have a big number of applications, every time we had to move these applications from an older release to a new one, we had some difficulties," Leproni said. She hoped a BICC would prove "useful and very flexible to move all our technology to the new version."

With the help of SAS, CSI-Piemonte set up a BICC in 2004. A BICC is essentially an internal group dedicated to managing all aspects of an organization's BI system. It is usually made up of report writers and data management specialists who handle requests -- including creating dashboards and integrating data sources -- from an organization's various business departments.

A recent Gartner report noted that more companies are turning to BICCs as they try to connect previously disparate, department-level BI applications into a coherent enterprise-wide BI framework. Such was the case at CSI-Piemonte.

With the help of the newly formed BICC, the SAS upgrade went faster and more smoothly than expected, Leproni said. Convinced of the group's merits, CSI-Piemonte soon expanded its BICC.

With more than 78 members at last count, the BICC is currently made up of four main groups, Leproni said. One is focused on creating and troubleshooting front-end BI applications and reports, with the remaining three dedicated to back-end data management tasks like ensuring data quality and metadata management.

@58547 "It is very useful to have a BICC because the technology that we have is very complex and can be used in a very powerful way," Leproni said in a phone interview from Turin. "So it is very important to have a BICC that helps to use the technology in the best ways."

Thanks to the BICC, for example, code written for a BI application for one customer can be saved and used for another customer with similar requirements, Leproni said. CSI-Piemonte now has a BI-related institutional memory that can be tapped when new problems arise. "It is easier than in the past to share solutions in the organization," she said. "Many different users have the same issues."

The BICC, as it turned out, also benefited SAS.

"We work a lot with the SAS laboratory at Cary [N.C.], and we have a very good relationship with them," Leproni said. "We provide a lot of feedback about the issues that emerge from our daily activity, and we can try to make SAS understand the needs of their customers that they can take into consideration for later versions of their software."

Ultimately, Leproni said, the BICC has made BI processes run more smoothly. "With the BICC," she said, "we manage all the BI applications in a way that is centralized, that is more orderly than in the past."

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