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By Bob Violino  |  Posted 08-27-2008 Print


The Hillman Group in Cincinnati has used operational BI for more than three years and CIO Jim Honerkamp has seen several benefits. The company, which distributes hardware, signs, keys and other products, uses WebFocus BI software from Information Builders, providing applications to end users throughout the organization via an internal Web portal.

Hillman customized the BI applications on what end-users are trying to accomplish. One of the goals of the implementation was to shrink the time it takes for business decision makers to get information they need. Business managers in the past asked IT to run queries, and often multiple times in various scenarios. The process could take weeks. Now, Honerkamp says, they can get it within minutes. Hundreds of Hillman employees have access to BI, including people in finance, materials and executive management. Nearly 600 sales representatives use BI to track sales transactions and see if they're meeting quotas.

And BI helped Hillman avoid a costly fine from one of its customers. The customer's data showed that Hillman had not shipped product within certain parameters, making the company vulnerable to a $130,000 fine. But using data from the BI system, Hillman showed that the customer's information wasn't correct, and that Hillman had delivered the product within the set parameters.

Recently, Hillman added a geographic information system capability to its reports. A BI report might include a map of major bodies of water in the U.S., and a user could drill down to a specific geographical area and see information on all Hillman retail customers within a five-mile distance of a particular body of water, including how much of the company's stainless steel products have been sold in particular stores.

The company operates 10 distribution centers in the United States, from which it ships products to retailers like Lowe's and Home Depot. Using BI and GIS, Hillman managers determine the most efficient shipping routes to reduce freight costs. By optimizing shipments, the company has slashed total shipping expenses by 25 percent.

Hillman plans to move to more predictive use of BI so it can track key indicators such as the price of raw materials from suppliers overseas, and price its products accordingly in order to maintain profit margins.

Also leveraging operational BI to get more value out of information is Columbia Valley Community Health, a Wenatchee, Wash., health care provider that began using a product called Edge from Business Objects in 2007. The key driver was the desire to leverage clinical data to better manage patient care, says CIO Mike Hodgson.

For the most part, the BI system is being used by Columbia Valley's IT staff to support internal users. But the organization is preparing to roll out the application to users outside IT, including people responsible for monitoring information related to health care quality, such as patient outcome data and immunization programs.

Some of the most tangible benefits have been found from pushing data to non-technical users. For example, diabetes case managers receive a daily report alerting them about diabetic patients who are scheduled for visits that day, giving them a status report on eye and foot exams and the most recent lab results. "The case managers can then work with individual medical and dental providers to ensure that the diabetic patients in clinic that day can get up to date on labs, exams and education," Hodgson says.


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