Building Business Intelligence One Step at a Time

SAN MATEO (03/06/2000) - Philadelphia's CIO, Brian Anderson, is well-versed in the importance of making sure that the right information is available to the right decision makers at the right time. The challenge confronting Anderson when he came to the city of brotherly love in November 1997 was how little an infrastructure for such tasks the city had in place.

"When I came to [Philadelphia], I saw there was a tremendous amount of information in their databases, but there was a void in the ability to access and analyze it in any intelligible kind of way," Anderson says.

Not only were the various agencies ill-prepared to digest and analyze information, like most government entities, but Anderson was also faced with the fact that the various arms of Philadelphia's government must adhere to strict budgetary guidelines that can stifle IT projects before they ever get off the ground.

Anderson opted to build smaller, more manageable data marts from which the agencies could glean intelligence, rather than attempt a full-scale data warehousing effort -- an approach that meant getting approval for incremental spending of $500,000 or less, rather than one large, multimillion-dollar data warehouse.

"It's very difficult to justify infrastructure spending to the city agencies, so we're taking a piecemeal approach and trying to win over fans as we go along," Anderson says.

Anderson chose Cognos Inc. and its PowerPlay business-intelligence tool, which allowed his team to implement data mart solutions within a six-to-nine-month time frame that virtually sold themselves to city officials.

"The great thing about the Cognos tools is that we can deliver these data marts up front and give [users] something they can identify with. It eventually lets them get to the point where they're asking for more," Anderson says.

In the first phase, Anderson rolled out the Cognos solution to five city agencies and 200 users. He plans to implement the Web version of PowerPlay for approximately 500 more users by this summer.

One of the first agencies to reap the benefits of business intelligence was the police department. Anderson developed an arrest-and-arraignment processing system that offered them more detailed data than anything currently in place.

The reaction was immediate.

"For a long time the police department didn't understand why they needed to go through the effort of collecting more detailed incident reports, but now they see the value," Anderson says. "We brought over the police commissioner and knocked his socks off with the complete, detailed information we were able to give him."

The commissioner decided to give Cognos' tools to every commander. He then set up an initiative to ensure better data collection throughout the police force.

Other city workers who quickly saw the advantages of data analysis were the financial analysts at City Hall. Whereas they used to transcribe financial data from a mainframe and enter it into an Access database, they can now get in minutes data that used to take weeks.

Anderson believes the city has already saved as much as $500,000 simply by eliminating duplicated resources; continued consolidation of equipment, infrastructure, and staff could reduce the IT budget by millions, he adds.

"In a city where every agency thinks of itself as an independent body, I can for the first time see what's going on across all the different groups," Anderson says. "Not only that, they are now working together on eliminating redundancies and creating efficiencies."

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