The second focus area was improving Equinix’ ability to disseminate timely financial information gleaned from its upgrade to Oracle E-Business Suite 11.5.10, as well as from Oracle Financial Analytics and Oracle Order Management and Fulfillment Analytics, both Oracle Business Intelligence applications. “We looked at our executive-level financial reporting to determine how to reduce the manual efforts it was taking to produce it,” says Elsberg. Oracle Financial Analytics provides timely and comprehensive information about revenues and expenses to help Equinix’ front-line managers improve financial performance. Oracle Order Management and Fulfillment Analytics helps Equinix monitor its complete order-to-cash process and facilitates operational and financial backlog analysis.
Taking a tactical approach was important in the early stages to elicit concrete suggestions from the business staff about what they needed from the BI software. According to Elsberg, the business staff was relatively unfamiliar with analytics, and operational or strategic questions could easily have resulted in vague and ineffective responses. “If we walked in at the beginning and asked clients, 'How do you want to use data?’ they would have been lost,” Elsberg reasons. “It would have been hard to start the conversation that way because we were introducing a new culture and a new way of looking at information. But now that we have a year under our belts and we’re getting folks trained, it’s time to address the larger picture of what KPIs should be in place for measuring the business and how we provide those KPIs in the right way, to the right people, and in a timely manner.”
Even after an initial BI launch, IT managers must continue to ask the business people the right kinds of questions, Oracle’s Ghuman says. Ask the wrong types of questions and the IT staff could easily become overwhelmed with conflicting information. “If you ask them what they need, they’ll say, 'Give me the ability to slice and dice data and do trend analysis,’ which may not be appropriate for every role,” Ghuman says. “Instead, start from another direction, and ask what they are trying to accomplish and what decisions they need to make on a daily, monthly, and annual basis. Then find out what information they need to support those decisions. This simplifies the communication problem immensely.”
The Right Toolkit
The next step in the Oracle Insight process is for companies to identify the data and BI tools they require to perform analyses and make sound business decisions. “The soundness of any decision is directly related to the quality of the data used in the decision-making process,” Ghuman points out. This means that organizations must identify the correct datasources for each decision, be able to collect and cleanse the source data, and finally monitor appropriate KPIs.
Oracle offers a comprehensive platform of BI technologies, ranging from foundational technologies like Oracle Warehouse Builder in Oracle Database to a wide selection of analytical tools appropriate for each of the three decision categories. For strategic decisions, companies can use Oracle’s Hyperion Strategic Finance and Crystal Ball.
“[Oracle’s] Crystal Ball can run 10,000 different Monte Carlo simulations within two or three minutes and give business managers the probabilities of the success of different scenarios for maximizing profits or customer service,” Ghuman says. “Companies can pick the scenario that represents the least risk and the biggest payoff.”
Tactical decisions, which require the collection of research and transactional data, can take advantage of Oracle’s Siebel Customer Relationship Management (Siebel CRM), Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise, and Oracle’s Demantra planning applications. Operational decisions, which are typically supported by transactional data, are enabled by BI dashboards built with Oracle Database, Oracle Discoverer, or Oracle Portal. Oracle also offers a variety of vertical-market analytics for transportation, inventory management, price markdown analysis, and retail space optimizations.
Segmenting users according to decision types also helped Equinix tailor training programs for specific needs. For example, a user in operations who primarily accesses BI dashboards requires less training than an advanced user creating data-mining models to perform strategic financial analysis.
In addition to identifying the right tools for each user, the Oracle Insight process shows companies which decisions lend themselves to automation and thereby reduce staff involvement and speed response times. “To improve the quality and speed of decision-making throughout the organization, companies should identify the most frequently required decisions, predetermine a range of responses, and deposit these responses in a repository that’s easily accessed by employees who execute the decision,” Ghuman says. “For example, a predetermined response embedded into a call center application would permit a customer representative to offer profitable customers a six-month promotional discount if they are calling to discontinue their service.”
Now that Equinix has accomplished the tactical goals of its initial BI strategy, it is ready to move to the next level, which will apply analytics to tasks that are more operational and strategic tasks. In the meantime, Elsberg says the company is already benefiting from its BI efforts.
“The business driver for our financial reporting applications was the desire to drive empowerment down to the business units,” he says. That goal is being achieved. “The BI system is increasing our ability to bring in information, validate it, and disseminate it. And because that alleviates some of the more mundane tasks, people are more focused on growing the business. They’re starting to ask and answer questions that they previously didn’t have time to focus on. This increases our internal intelligence.”