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Dow Corning's Transition to New, User-Friendly Data Analysis Solutions

by Laura Casasanto

June 30, 2011

Project Expert has a new case study up detailing Dow Corning's move from BEx to the SAP BusinessObject BI suite of tools. The company was looking for a new approach to data exploration that included deeper data mining, predictive analysis, and easy-to-use mobile dashboards, and found it in SAP BusinessObjects solutions.

In the article, Jeff Duly, lead on Dow Corning's BI  project, told us how he and his team revamped the company's former BI strategy to focus on providing the end users, especially management, easy and direct ways to analyze data when and where they needed it.

According to Jeff, "As we analyzed our BI efforts after 10 years, we realized that we had a car with a great engine that was running well. But if we stepped back, there was no curb appeal. It was hard to get people into the car to take it for a drive. Some analysts liked it with the Excel front end, but many employees did not. I personally couldn't relate to it inside of Excel. So in October of 2009, we met with SAP and they showed us their whole BusinessObjects toolset and introduced us to Roambi by MeLLmo for mobile.

"At that point we started to see things like BusinessObjects Explorer giving us the ease-of-use, one-click capability where just a click could help you find what you wanted, and that gave us the curb appeal to get more people into the car, so to speak, and drive around to explore the data," Jeff explains. "It might be that they find data off to the side, down some muddy roa d in places they're not going to go to in Explorer, but that could teach us something and lead to a new dashboard to keep an eye on a less-traveled but important area. This is one way we envisioned all of our tools and data coming together."

Jeff had some great advice so I wanted to share with you seven lessons he and his team learned that could be helpful to you when undertaking such projects:

1. Don't let your executives be the ones to find problems with the data on your dashboards. "Now that our executives are using real-time information that we've made so easy for them to use, it's very embarrassing when your CEO points out a data problem," Duly notes. "Make sure you do the testing and validation up front, even if you're just showing off an interface. Of course, it's good that problems can be found so easily, but whose eyes do you want to find them?"

2. Don't skimp on training. "You've just made a large investment in a platform, so make sure you know how to use it," Duly recommends. "You need people focused on training because tools are less than half of the story — it's the data, the universes, how to apply universes to your daily life that's most important when it comes to training," adding that you need someone to help explain, for example, when to turn to a dashboard and when to use a Crystal Report.

3. Don't be afraid to promote your success. "With BI, if you deliver good examples your users will sell it for you — and that's the best way to pave the way forward," Duly says.

4. Keep your public folders pure. "Keeping your BI platform's data pure should be the number one priority because, if the information is bad, user confidence will be lost in everything," Duly warns. "Find your balance between self-service reporting and a single version of the truth. On our scale of self-service vs. quality of data, we're really heavy on the quality of data side. Our power users can use Explorer and that's very self-service centric — we create the InfoSpace for them, but they can run through it however they want."

5. Keep it as simple, inviting, engaging, and visually appealing. In fact, effective design is so important, Dow Corning is considering hiring a user interface expert to ensure superior ease of use. "If your users don't put their new tools to work, all the other investment is worthless," Duly notes.

6. Don't reinvent the wheel on mobility. "By using Roambi, we've been able to create mobile dashboards with little effort. Roambi builds the UI design by taking your existing WebI, Crystal, and Excel reports, and without any programming whatsoever, gives us the mobile experience," Duly explains. "And it's tied backinto our BusinessObjects Enterprise foundation with all of the security. So we were able to take what looks like a really large step forward into mobility without hiring mobile programmers."

7. Get help to grease the wheels. "There's a lot of technology that you have to bring into your environment, and a lot of these BI solutions have existed before SAP acquired them, so I didn't want a bunch of meetings arguing about naming standards or folder structures," Duly says. "So we brought in some expertise just to give us best practices in those areas so we could focus on the innovation, not the mundane."

To read more about Dow Corning's transition to new user-friendly BI tools, read the full article here: Dow Corning Delivers BI for the Masses — From the Top Down (subscription to Project Expert required)

-Laura, Project Expert


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