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Shared vision drives BI success

Shared vision drives BI success

Westpac Life has no regrets about taking a 'high-quality, slightly higher-risk route'.

What started out as a low-risk reporting upgrade to meet new tax legislation requirements ended up as a full-blown, future-facing business intelligence project at Westpac Life. The new taxation rules, effective from July 2010, required Westpac’s life insurance arm “to do a lot of different reporting and pull our data together in a different way,” says Kevin Crowley, head of insurance at Westpac Life.

“We were going down a pretty narrow route, trying to figure out how to take our existing data and get this thing together,” he says.

But Torrance Mayberry, Westpac Life’s systems manager, had a bigger vision. He saw an opportunity to significantly improve the quality of the organisation’s data.

“It’s fair to say I was sceptical,” says Crowley. “It’s not too often that an IT guy comes along and says, ‘We’ve got a solution here that is going to be awesome for the business. We can do much more for the same price and in the same timeframe.’”

Mayberry suggested expanding the smaller reporting project into building a whole new enterprise BI environment, aimed at increasing revenues, improving customer retention and reducing risk.

Like many other financial institutions, Westpac has complicated data over multiple systems, so the organisation needed data integration software to build the BI environment. Westpac had been using Informatica’s technology as an ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) toolset for years, and it made sense to use it for this project as well, says Mayberry.

Once the management team understood the project and saw the benefits it could bring, Mayberry was given the go-ahead and an in-house team of five built the platform.

Today, the solution — supported by Informatica’s PowerCenter and PowerExchange components — provides advanced reporting, analytics and greater visibility across the business, says Crowley. Westpac Life’s data is now about eight times more accurate than before. Access to timely and relevant data helps the organisation make intelligent marketing offers to customers, create cross-sell and up-sell opportunities and increase customer retention, among other things, he says.

Previously, information management was more “silo-based”, meaning strategic business decisions were often based on inaccurate, delayed and, sometimes, incomplete data.

The BI environment creates possibilities for the organisation, says Crowley.

“It’s future-facing,” he says. “As things evolve in the future we are going to be so much better placed to meet those opportunities in the market.”

The project is expected to deliver more than a 240 percent return on investment and increase revenues at least one percent over the life of a policy, he adds.

One of the aspects that helped mitigate the risk of the project was the collaboration between IT and key business stakeholders, says Mayberry. There was initial scepticism, but as soon as management understood the project, they believed in it.

“For me, that was important,” says Mayberry. “Kevin’s belief in the vision, and the fact that we could talk about ‘bumps in the road’ and how we were going to resolve them, helped energise and motivate everyone as we continued down the track.”

Crowley agrees a big part of the success of the project is down to having a shared vision.

“Absolutely. We wouldn’t have got there on time and within budget otherwise. From a business point of view, it was a big expansion of what we had originally envisaged — it was a move from effectively producing reports for tax to ‘Here’s a whole new world that opens up by doing this.’” he says.

From start to finish, the project took 10 months. “We took the high-quality, slightly higher-risk route, but, undoubtedly, [it was] well worth it.”

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