Oracle and Optimum Solutions help pollster improve information access with business intelligence
by Alison Weiss
Since 1935, Gallup has studied human behavior to provide timely research and offered consulting services that help organizations improve growth and employee productivity. The common element among the company’s many services is the gathering and interpreting of data—making Gallup a pioneer in the use of business intelligence (BI). Recently, when IT leaders at Gallup needed a better way to give external and internal users access to BI data, they looked to Oracle Certified Advantage Partner Optimum Solutions to implement Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition. The successful project highlights why many businesses are discovering that an effective BI strategy is critical to the bottom line.
Jim Collison, Gallup technology director, believes that Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition is a platform that can bring Gallup not only traditional BI but also state-of-the-art dashboards, scorecards, and analytics for decision-making for the next generation. He believes that strategic BI allows users to step through their reports to make better decisions—benefiting customers and extending the value of Gallup’s core business. “The mission of Gallup is that we ask great questions and get honest answers,” says Collison. “We take those answers, form intelligence around them, and then give them back to our customers with increased value to help them make great decisions about their organization.”
The Importance of BI Integration It’s benefits like these that drive continued demand for BI, even despite tough economic times. A recent Gartner report indicates that the BI platform market is expected to expand 7.9 percent between 2009 and 2012 because companies are looking to improve efficiencies and reduce waste via data analytics and BI. Glenn Hoormann, director of business development, Optimum Solutionsagrees. “In 2009, BI projects now seem to be the most important projects in the organization,” he says.
However, many companies make the mistake of using a variety of BI tools and architectures across applications and departments, resulting in multiple data warehouses and data marts. According to Hoormann, this leads to an overall fragmented view of information, which undermines the value of the system altogether. The good news is that cutting-edge companies are making the decision to consolidate and standardize their BI tools. “BI integration is now more open,” Hoormann says. “The ability to integrate with all transaction systems is there, and what’s key is to have a standard ‘middle layer,’ which means you only do the work once, and that layer will benefit everyone, regardless of which department or which system is integrated.”
This is precisely the strategy that Gallup used with its Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition–based project. For ten years, the company relied on an internally created BI tool that lacked some of the functionality currently available on the market. “When we decided to centralize on Oracle, the benefit would be for us to jump ahead from a functionality standpoint and give our customers the next generation of reporting,” says Collison. “It was absolutely a value-add to our external customers to give them the next level of BI: easy-to-use scorecards and reports using charts, graphs, maps, drill-down, and dynamic reporting—all those promises of business intelligence.”
A Two-Phase Project Gallup implemented the project in two phases. The first phase focused on internal BI to facilitate the sales process from beginning to end using Oracle’s Customer Relationship Management solutions. Internal business users can now switch between new tabular-style reports, raw data, and next-generation data visuals, depending on their job role. “We have multiple dashboard tabs on our financials accounting main page that handle such things as revenue reporting and financial statements,” Collison says. “We also have a set of in-progress dashboards that only certain members of our development team can see. This allows us to develop BI projects without necessarily having to release them into the wild.”
Next, Gallup focused on the external customer component. With Gallup’s legacy BI system, most survey data was presented to clients in a very precise but static PDF format. Clients looking to compare data often had to do it manually. Now, Gallup’s customers can see their data through Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition, which provides self-service reporting with features that allow users to drill down through interactive charts or graphs that are accessible over the Web, with security permission restricted based on employee or department. “Our external component is very visually driven, and we’ve spent time customizing the environment based on the need of our customers,” Collison says.
Optimum Solutionshelped Gallup address several key problems during the external phase of the project. Collison says Optimum’s experienced staff was able to answer hard questions and work closely with his team to solve the most-difficult problems. “We were looking for a partner that could very quickly come in, not mess around, and do exactly what we needed without wasting valuable time,” he explains. “It was important that we keep costs at bay, and so they did a great job of making it very affordable.”
One specific challenge that Optimum addressed was finding a way to pass dynamic session variables from Gallup’s custom portal into Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition for security authorization and authentication. Optimum also made sure that the system could manage large numbers of concurrent users. Finally, it was important that the external portal be simple enough to use to be self-service. “Most IT staffs are not positioned to administer and support these sorts of external applications,” says Todd Randolph, director of business intelligence practice, Optimum Solutions.
Positive Results Today, Gallup isn’t spending as much IT time managing the data and views in Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition and has already gained some economies of scale. The company operates on a single source of truth so the CFO can manage from a trusted, central set of numbers. “Our company leaders are now getting better, more-accurate numbers that they can manage to and make better decisions,” Collison adds.
Looking to the future, Gallup hopes to extend capabilities further by implementing Oracle Spatial and Oracle Weblogic Suite MapViewer components. Optimum Solutions is continuing to work with Gallup in an advisory capacity. Gallup also continues to depend on a close relationship with Oracle. Collison says, “We view our relationship with Oracle as a partnership in the product. When we do need support, we get it, we get it quickly, and we get it easily through the various support channels that exist.”