There's no motivation like customer retention.
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St. Louis-based legal auditing firm Stuart, Maue, Mitchell & James, Ltd. got a stark reminder of this lesson when, faced with the prospect of losing two of its largest clients, the company was forced to put a long-delayed Business Intelligence (BI) initiative at the top of its IT priority list.
The clients demanded a simpler and more efficient way to track legal invoices and produce custom reports, and Stuart Maue's dozen-strong IT department knew that it was time to get moving on BI or they risked losing two significant sources of revenue and their competitive edge to boot.
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.
"It really wasn't until two of our major clients requested that we develop a data warehouse, and they really wanted BI tools on their end to custom-design their own reports," said Bradley Maue, the auditing firm's vice president of IT and systems and software development. "It was really client retention that drove us into the BI world."
Oracle released Business Intelligence 10g, a packaged version of the firm's BI applications, last March. The suite includes a single user interface for centrally managing Discoverer querying, reporting and analysis software; Spreadsheet Add-In, for accessing OLAP data from Excel; Warehouse Builder; and BI Beans.
Oracle BI is included with purchases of Oracle Application Server 10g Enterprise Edition, or it can be purchased alone for $20,000 per processor or $400 per user.
A switch from the old ways
The firm's traditional and somewhat clunky method of producing custom reports usually meant a great deal of work for database administrators (DBAs).
"Our internal users were always coming to us, the systems department, for customer queries, and we'd come up with some big, long SQL statement to produce [them], but obviously that's a time drag on your systems department," said Bradley Maue. "I guess all of our BI projects sort of got put on the back burner because we just kept building all of these custom reports and they were done by the systems department."
But with the Oracle BI implementation, a process which began in October of 2004, 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.
The firm says that the new system supports over 2,500 users and manages the past three years' worth of legal invoices, totaling over $300 million in fees and expenses.
Maue explained that key components of Oracle's BI package include the Oracle Business Intelligence Warehouse Builder, which the firm uses for data integration; and Oracle Business Intelligence Discoverer, for ad hoc querying and reporting. He said Oracle Portal provides Stuart Maue's clients with secure access to information and self-service publishing, while the Oracle 10g-based data warehouse component stores and manages legal invoices.
Maue said that one of the biggest challenges of rolling out a new Business Intelligence initiative is deciding exactly what information should be included in a data warehouse.
For instance, the legal auditing firm wanted to build out solid histories in its data warehouse, so including information about the appeals people file to contest legal bills wouldn't be prudent because such filings are frequently amended.
"You really want to save the final stamp out of the submission," Maue said.
In March of 2005, Stuart Maue's systems department began interviewing hoards of internal users, company executives and customers to get a handle on exactly what to put in the data warehouse.
"A lot of stuff goes on with the development of a warehouse that you don't think about," Maue said. "We basically just went through an interview process where we said, 'Hey, what's most important to your people?'"