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Getting BI with a little help from your friends

The IT manager for a prominent legal auditing firm explains what he learned during a yearlong Oracle BI implementation process.

When St. Louis-based legal auditing firm Stuart, Maue, Mitchell & James, Ltd. got a mandate from two of its biggest clients -- clients who were ready to take their business elsewhere if the firm didn't update its reporting and analysis capabilities -- the firm's IT department knew it was time to get started on a long-delayed Business Intelligence (BI) initiative.

The firm ultimately solved its customer retention issue by implementing a reporting and analysis system based on the pre-integrated Oracle Business Intelligence platform, including an Oracle 10g-based data warehouse, Oracle Business Intelligence 10g and Oracle Portal. And Stuart Maue's clients can now track the lifecycle and ensure the accuracy of legal invoices, develop custom reports and receive ad hoc queries from their own computers. But the change didn't happen overnight. caught up with Bradley Maue, the legal auditing firm's vice president of IT and systems and software development, to find out what he learned as that yearlong BI implementation project unfolded.

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What does the Oracle BI package come with and what do you use each product for?

Bradley Maue: Well mainly we use Oracle warehouse builder to set up the queries and to execute the workflow of what would be updated on a nightly basis. Then on the end user presentation layers we use Oracle Discoverer 10g. We give each client access to only their data. And we also have Oracle Portal which allows clients to define reports that they want on a daily basis to show up on the portlets within the portal page.

For the rest of it, we've been with Oracle since 1991 [and version 6 of the database] and have migrated up through to Oracle 10g, so all of the transactional data is stored in a 10g database on a real application cluster and we have it all housed on an 8-processor HP Itanium 2 platform in a 2 meter rack.

What are the security issues that need to be addressed when giving customers access to data?

Maue: We have to give the law firms who are billing to a certain client access to certain temporary tables to submit their bills. Then we ask the clients, the people who are going to be reviewing those bills, who are those users, what are their roles, and then we define that all in the database in a granular client.

How exactly do Oracle's BI tools tie in with the back end database?

Maue: The BI tools are part of [Oracle Application Server 10g]. The main tie-in is done through Warehouse Builder. Basically, you'll get a view of the transactional system and the warehouse simultaneously and it all integrates together.

Besides Oracle's BI package, what other BI tools did you look at during the evaluation process?

Maue: I think at one point -- it must have been around 1999 or 2000 -- we considered using Sagent products just because they had some heavy traction in the BI world back then, and it played well with the Oracle products. It was one of those things where something that is perceived as more important always got in the way.

The process of implementing Oracle BI took your firm about a year from start to finish. What can you say about the total cost of ownership (TCO) or return on investment (ROI) as it relates to such a project?

Maue: The TCO part is a hard question in that we're still experiencing a growth in TCO, in that were maintaining and tweaking the warehouse all the time. So I'd have to factor in current salaries and bills and everything. But I would say that the whole process from start to finish was basically $1.1 to $1.2 million dollars. The ROI [is also difficult to measure] but I can tell you that retaining the two clients that we retained [as a result of implementing Oracle BI] more than pays for that initial development cost.

Can you give me an example or examples of what types of things your customers can do now that Oracle BI is in place?

Maue: The biggest compliment that we get is our customers just love the fact that they can develop their own reports, they don't have to call us anymore, and they can save those as templates and share them with other users within their organization. Now they have a whole slew of templates that all of the people within their organization use and they just love it.

What advice do you have for IT pros who are about to embark on a BI implementation initiative?

Maue: I would say that if you're on the fence with it, go for it, because albeit a learning curve for us, it was well worth it. I have a much greater appreciation for what goes into one these things now and what they can do for you. If you think it's an expensive process, think about what it would cost you to do something over and over and over again. Think about what the TCO would be if you didn't have the system in place.

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