ASD Unveils BI Solution for Insurance Companies
June 29, 2010 Alex Woodie
Advanced System Designs, an IT consultancy and IBM reseller based in southern Illinois, recently launched a new business intelligence offering aimed at insurance companies that run their core apps on i/OS. Called BI Express, ASD’s offering is built on Microsoft‘s SQL Server technology, and features a data-fetching component designed to simplify integration with System i data sources.
While IBM has promoted the System i as an ideal platform for running business intelligence workloads, the idea hasn’t quite caught on with customers. In fact, if Infor’s decision last week to partner with Microsoft is any indication, then it appears the migration of DB2/400 data into SQL Server for BI workloads is at an all time high. Rather than fight the rising tide, vendors like Infor and ASD are listening to their customers, and that means Windows is preferred for reporting and analytical workloads.
This is the back story behind BI Express, a new Windows-based BI offering that ASD developed specifically for insurance companies. BI Express is based on a foundation of the SQL Server database, SQL Server Integration Services, and SQL Server Reporting Services. On top of this BI framework, ASD developed 217 individual metrics, delivered via scorecards and dashboards, that help companies measure business metrics. The software also supports ad-hoc analytics and multidimensional “cubes.”
ASD developed the content behind the BI Express metrics with input from three insurance and BI industry veterans the company recently hired, including Aviva Phillips, who holds the title of insurance lead and business architect at ASD, executive vice president Frederick Waite, and Justin Silver, director of business development for ASD’s insurance business.
This team will be marketing BI Express as an affordable and easy to implement BI solution for small and medium insurance companies, many of whom run i/OS-based packages, such as those from Computer Sciences Corp. and others.
One of the big selling points of BI Express is simplifying the access of data from the DB2/400 database of System i servers, Silver says. “You still see companies with mainframes and stuff like that. But I’m really starting to find a lot of companies migrating away, or have already gotten rid of, their iSeries,” he says. “The business I sell to, they don’t even know what an iSeries is.”
ASD sells a product called the iSeries Data Logistics Edition as part of the BI Express package. The iSeries Data Logistics Edition basically provides a customized and automated implementation of the SQL Server Integration Services product, which is an extract, transform, and load (ETL) tool of sorts designed for getting data into SQL Server-based data warehouses. The software also features a Web-based interface for configuring and scheduling data transfers.
The iSeries Data Logistics Edition gets rid of much of the technical work of connecting to DB2/400 data, Silver says. “It eliminates the complexity of futzing with the iSeries and needing to understand how to work with it,” he says. “For companies who have iSeries but who don’t have big budgets, BI Express is a good way to do things with BI, and extend the life of an iSeries if they want to keep it. Or if they’re trying to migrate off, it allows them to migrate data off it.”
It was the work that ASD did for a prominent southern Illinois System i shop that in part gave rise to BI Express and the iSeries Data Logistics Edition. Caterpillar, which is headquartered in Peoria, several miles from ASD’s headquarters in Morton, across the Illinois River, contracted with ASD to do work on a business intelligence application. ASD ended up developing a “global data model” that helped the $32-billion manufacturer extract data from its i/OS data sources and load them into a SQL Server-based BI system.
Initially, the folks in Caterpillar’s IT department were hesitant that Microsoft-based BI technology could provide the performance or scalability they required. But after showcasing the Microsoft technology in the performance lab, and showing how easy it was to get Caterpillar’s i/OS-resident data into SQL Server using the global data model, the folks at Caterpillar decided to go Windows with their BI applications, Silver says.
Eventually, many of Caterpillar’s dealers followed corporate’s lead, and ASD was happy to oblige these dealers (which are big users of System i systems themselves) by licensing them copies of the global data model that allowed them to use Microsoft technologies for BI workloads. “From an iSeries perspective, the key is to get the data off, and only the data we need,” Silver says. “We provided a cost effective business option for iSeries customers who couldn’t afford IBM’s business intelligence approach and didn’t necessarily need or want Cognos yet, or ever.”
ASD’s focus today with BI Express is with the insurance industry. In addition to hiring the three industry veterans and opening two new offices in the United States, the company has signed an OEM agreement with an insurance industry software developer, which will white label BI Express and sell it as its own offering. In the future, the company may adapt BI Express to serve other industries, as well.
In the meantime, ASD continues to serve the System i needs of its Midwestern customer base, and maintains relationships with prominent System i tool and application vendors, including Vision Solutions, Clear Technologies, PowerTech, Coglin Mill, and IBS.
Full BI Express implementations will start around $100,000. For more information, visit the company’s website at www.asd.net.