Port authority changes tack with BI solution

The operator of Port Brisbane, Australia's third largest port, has dumped its spreadsheets in favour of a $50,000 business intelligence solution that has cut customer response time from weeks to days.

Port of Brisbane Corporation (POBC) IT manager, Tony Marles, said the port's previous business analysis tools, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, were not comprehensive enough to deliver the information that its various departments needed.

"Staff were using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and custom-written SQL queries within an Oracle database and standard Cobol programs to extract information from databases that were disparate and held in different locations. This made report consolidation difficult and increased duplication errors and manual processing costs," Marles said.

After implementing its Port Information System which analyses import and export trade data, POBC invested in the Cognos Business Intelligence solution and enlisted Bistech to help develop a data systems architecture that would resolve its reporting issues in key areas including marketing, port operations and the Brisbane Multimodal Terminal railhead.

With facilities including container terminals and bulk cargo facilities for oil, coal, grain and woodchips, POBC currently provides 30 berths and 7446 metres of quay line, and had a reported revenue of about $96.4 million in 2002.

Independent data marts were developed for each of the POBC's business areas, based on common data repositories so information could be shared across the organisation.

Marles said the main data cubes were written in a couple of months; implementing the systems for the three business areas - marketing, port operations and the Brisbane Multimodal Terminal - took nine months.

"We use the tools extensively to perform business analysis within the corporation and particularly within the Port Information System. It allows our marketing and business development staff to analyse and drill down through myriad shipping manifest data to find trends and report on import and export trade data. This has saved an enormous amount of IT resources and is much more flexible and powerful for the user," Marles said.

POBC implemented Cognos PowerPlay and Impromptu as the front-end tools for its analytic and query capabilities. The tools have also been extended to finance, human resources and geographical services areas.

"We purchased the Enterprise Reporting edition of the toolset and have recently rolled out to our user base of 30-plus to make data available to users via a Web browser," he said.

"We also redeveloped the data entry side of our system - the Visual Basic front-end into Oracle database which cost about $200,000. We needed to do this as the old in-house developed system was unmanageable and unsupportable, so the system needed a revamp," Marles said. POBC is also developing a new lands management system and implementing an electronic records management system over the coming 12 months.

"We're also focusing on our ISP arm, and PortNet to deliver broadband wireless Internet access to the port community," he said.

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