Business Insight Solutions

 

BIOLAP has over 15 years’ experience in creating customised Business Insight Solutions for our clients in the Insurance, Legal and other industry sectors.

We are often approached by organisations expressing their frustration with the fact that, despite having expensive and leading edge operational and financial systems, they are unable to produce meaningful, unambiguous, consistent and relevant information from such systems.

It is our view that most operational and financial systems are not suited architecturally for reporting purposes and to achieve this goal, the data of an organisation has to be transformed and stored in a consistent and reporting friendly structure (a data warehouse) from where key business insights can be derived without having to apply further business logic or coding. Therefore, if two individuals in an organisation ask the same question, they should get the same answer, irrespective of the method of seeking the answer from such data warehouse. This is what is meant by having one version of the truth.

BIOLAP uses Kimball design methodology and we find a hybrid of Agile and Scrum project management practices to be optimal. 

 

Why do you need a Business Insight Solution?

 

  • Consolidation of data from multiple systems

Many organisations operate diverse and multiple systems and a data warehouse acts as a simplifying nexus, hub or consolidation point in the flow of information that eliminates point to point integrations between these systems and group information requirements:

Hub Graphics

In the figure above we assume that an organisation has say 100 transaction systems and has a requirement for 10 consolidated reports, each report would have to be linked to each of the systems resulting in 1,000 data integration processes.

When a data warehouse is introduced, each of the 100 transaction systems is integrated into the data warehouse and each of the 10 reports is linked to the data warehouse resulting in only 110 data integration processes. 

This scenario is very real.  At one of our global clients, over 100 transactional systems in more than 50 countries had to be interrogated to answer just one question – What revenues do we derive from our top 10 clients in the region? Due to the manual effort involved, this question could only be answered on a quarterly basis, involving accountants and analysts in 50 countries extracting and summarising data onto spreadsheets that were sent back to head office for collation with no guarantee of the accuracy or completeness of the numbers. However, integrating the data from these systems into a single data warehouse that is updated daily means that this type of question can now be answered daily and within seconds without any manual intervention.

 

  • Operational and financial systems are not optimised for reporting of information

We are often approached by organisations that, after spending substantial amounts on implementing and training staff to use new systems, still cannot obtain the information that they need from these new systems. 

This is because most of these systems are ‘transactional entry systems’ where the focus is on recording transactions and inputs as fast as possible whilst minimising storage space. Most underlying databases in these systems are structured as fully normalised databases. A simple example of normalisation of data is where instead of recording all of a client’s details against a transaction, these client details are stored in a separate table and only a client ID, code or key is recorded against the transaction. The reality is that data in these systems are often stored in hundreds or thousands of related tables.

Most reporting of information requires a degree of de-normalising the data, i.e. linking or joining a transaction back to the client and other details from all of these tables. This means that creating a report listing the top 10 clients by revenue requires coding and query writing skills. 

The frustration of an account executive who, having made a number of sales and feeling that they ‘own’ their transactional data, has to ask for information about these sales via an intermediary like an analyst or someone in IT, is entirely justified and understandable.

Transforming or de-normalising the data into a data warehouse through an automated process may appear to be an unnecessary duplication of data, but it means that the data is organised and stored in a complimentary structure that is focused on fast and consistent reporting.

BIOLAP has the view that many operational and financial systems ‘break apart’ or ‘fragmentise’ transactions in the pursuit of storage minimisation. Users are then forever trying to put these data pieces together to make sense of the data in reports to provide insight to business leaders.

BIOLAP automates this process as part of the design of a data warehouse and improves the functionality of its solutions by applying the following rules of design:

      • Using fully descriptive and consistent table and field names to maximise transparency and understanding.
      • All business rules and transformation logic are applied and codified in the data warehouse which means that reporting tools only have to deal with aggregation of values and visualisation of data. It therefore follows that the data warehouse is reporting or analysis tool agnostic which allows organisations to change these toolsets or use multiple toolsets without requiring changes in the data warehouse.

 

  • Extracting value from data

Our clients have achieved excellent returns on their investment in our well-designed Business Insight Solutions. When we engage with clients on new projects, we normally start the discussions off with the following question – What happens if you do nothing? This helps clients to consider and quantify the cost or risk of doing nothing versus the cost of developing and implementing a Business Insight Solution.

Our clients use our solutions to drive gross margin improvement through pricing adjustments, reductions of discounts and reductions of cost of sales.

They also achieve cost reductions in IT through the reduction of legacy systems and efficiency gains in the production of management information.

Our systems also lead to better compliance (e.g. internal, regulatory and Sarbanes Oxley) and management control through the consistent application of business rules and non-compliance alerts. 

 

What is involved in creating an Insight Solution?

The main stages and processes involved in architecting a Business Insight Solution is illustrated below:

DW Compnets

  • Data Warehouse 

Our data warehouse solutions typically have three logical component areas:

      • Load Area– Required data from operational and financial systems are loaded into tables in the load area and refreshed daily. No data transformation occurs as part of this process which allows for full transparency and an audit trail of source data to reported information. External data used to enrich the data and to aid in master data management is also loaded.
      • Transform Area– Here data is transformed and enhanced to fulfil information requirements. The processes involved contain all business rules and logic to render the data fully reportable. The transformation includes system specific processes as well as common processes and application of master data management and enhancement.
      • Insight Area– This area contains all fully transformed and organised data typically structured into fact and dimension tables that are easily consumable into reporting and data visualisation tools.

We normally build our data warehouse solutions using the Microsoft BI Stack, but if a client has already invested in or has a preference for alternative database technologies such as Oracleetc., we are able to accommodate this. 

We are able to design and build our solutions directly within the Microsoft BI Stack or using data warehouse lifecycle toolsets such as Wherescape Red.

The data warehouse can also be stored ‘on-prem’ on a client’s own IT infrastructure or in the cloud using platforms such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS).

 

  • Reporting, Data Visualisation and Planning Tools

This is often referred to as the ‘final mile’ delivery of the Insight generation process. The data in the Insight Areas of our data warehouse solutions are reporting and data visualisation tool agnostic. This means that our clients can either continue to use their existing reporting and data visualisation tools or implement alternative ‘best of breed’ toolsets to fit client requirements with no additional coding or data transformation. We have successfully integrated data from our data warehouse solutions into well-known toolsets such as Analysis Services, Business Objects, Olation, PowerBI, Qlikview and Tableau, to name just a few.

 

What makes us different?


BIOLAP has access to a best in class talent pool in the UK and Poland. Our teams have in-depth knowledge of data warehouse design and implementation as well as reporting, data visualisation, planning and budgeting tools and techniques including OLAP, AI, Machine Learning and Data Science. We understand information requirements and how planning and reporting processes work in organisations. Our consultants have first-hand and extensive experience having worked in financial and IT environments, at operational through to board levels. As a result, we are ideally positioned to advise you on appropriate solutions and technically experienced to help you through the implementation and training phases of a Business Insight Solution project. Our long-term relationship with clients is also a testimony of our uncompromising and on-going support.

 

How do we work?

BIOLAP understands the financial, operational and reputational risk of embarking on a project and failing to deliver. There are after all numerous horror stories of expensive public sector IT projects failing or getting cancelled without any benefit ever derived after several years of development.

We endeavour to help de-risk the investment decisions of our clients by:

  • Initial engagement including analysis, workshops and proof of concept development and delivery
  • Project management with regular communication and transparency on progress and time incurred
  • Agile approach with short phases of development and deliverables
  • Handover of effective solution ownership to clients, assisting in testing, documentation, training and ongoing support.

 

Next Steps? 

If you want to know more about our Business Insight Solutions, please contact us at info@biolap.co.uk

Insight Solutions for Insurance Intermediaries

 

BIOLAP has developed sophisticated enterprise insight solutions for some of the leading insurance intermediaries in the world including Aon, Arthur J Gallagher and Tysers. We have continued to develop and refine our transformation methodology to load and transform data from a wide range of insurance systems into a scalable common and consolidated enterprise insight solution for our clients. These systems include:

 

Insurance Broking System
Acturis
Brokasure
Eclipse
eGlobal
Global XB
Impact
Novus
Open GI
Pure
Sector
Sirius
Total Objects
 

 

Insight Examples

The reporting capability from our Insight Solutions for Insurance Intermediaries is extensive – a few examples are:

  • Full insight into credit control – aged analysis of counter party exposures (Funding, Unmatched Cash, Held Funds, Uncollected Income, doubtful debts) and automated daily FCA CASS5 Client Money Reporting. Using this reporting capability allows our clients to reduce credit risk and bad debt exposures, reduce uncollected revenues and improve working capital resources and improve FCA CASS5 compliance. 
  • Enhanced insight into revenue generation and retention through:
    • analysis of revenues by client, market, product, profit centre
    • analysis of revenue leakage via client discounts, wholesale commission sharing and third-party commission sharing
    • analysis of fee compression (e.g. constant fee income despite additional product use by clients)
    • gross commission rates from underwriters on comparable products and 
    • underwriter profitability (premiums v paid claims).
    • business gained, lost and retained
  • Automated trial balance feeds into general ledger accounting systems.

 

Solutions

 

BIOLAP has over 15 years’ experience in creating customised Business Insight Solutions for our clients in the Insurance, Legal and other industry sectors.

We have in-depth knowledge of data warehouse design and implementation as well as reporting, data visualisation, planning and budgeting tools and techniques including OLAP, AI, Machine Learning and Data Science. We understand information requirements and how planning and reporting processes work in organisations. 

Budgeting

istock_000011933952xsmallBudgeting in most organisations represents an annual process. Budgets formulate in numbers the organisation's planned revenues and expenses for the next year. In summary, the purpose of budgeting is to:

  • Provide a forecast of revenues and expenditures i.e. construct a model of how your business might perform financially speaking if certain strategies, events and plans are carried out.
  • Enable the actual financial operation of the business to be measured against the forecast.

Accountants love to budget in Excel due to its rich functionality and ease of use.

The Problem with Budgeting in Excel

The annual budget process can be a real chore. Why spend more than 90% of the weeks and months needed to create a budget copying, typing and crunching numbers, and less than 10% of the time analysing and understanding your company or departmental budget? Turn those percentages around to make the budget process what it should be - the blueprint for your organization's success. Many budget controllers will admit that despite Excel's advantages it also has serious deficiencies:

Failure to handle multidimensional organisations - Most organisations are required to prepare budgets taking into consideration the multiple facets or dimensions of its business (e.g. combinations of entities, departments, offices, staff members, clients, products, currencies, periods, etc.). Because of this multidimensionality of the data, Excel users struggle to design robust models as Excel is inherently a 3-dimensional cube with rows, columns and sheets.

Formulas everywhere -  Even the simplest models require numerous Excel formulas to:

  • perform aggregations (summing up periods, accounts)
  • perform complex calculations based on assumptions provided
  • link different spreadsheets together.

Difficult for multiple users to collaborate -  Allowing different users to collaborate on a shared budget is difficult - often requiring versions of the same model being sent to different users, returned to a budget controller after completion, and   requiring consolidation to determine the overall effect of budget changes.

Slow turnaround - For the reasons set out above, it is therfore no surprise that there are often significant delays in a budget change being made by a user and the outcome becoming visible.

The Problem with Budgeting in a Web-Browser

Many software providers have opted for a 'web-browser only' interface to their solutions. In our opinion, although such systems set out to control unauthorised changes to budget templates and formulas, users end up preparing budgets outside such systems in Excel and then pasting the results into the corporate model. 

How are our Budget Solutions Different? 

BIOLAP provides customised budget solutions that use an OLAP multidimensional database and engine to store budget data, assumptions and formulas centrally. This allows users to interface with the budget model using Excel and Web-browser templates. The benefits of this approach include:

  • data stored securely in a central multi-dimensional database that can be accessed by all budget holders and contributors at the same time
  • fewer formulas to maintain in one location
  • individual user security maintained centrally that allows the budget controller to restrict a user to accessing say only one department
  • instant results immediately visible to all budget users - a user can change a revenue number and instantly see the outcome on the bottom line and dependent allocation calculations
  • audit trail of all budget changes allowing roll-backs to previous positions
  • secure back-up facility - allowing the restore from a previous back-up and roll-forward of changes made to date
  • write-back from Excel or Web-Browser templates to the OLAP database
  • sophisticated phasing functionality - based on past actuals, period intervals, etc
  • allowing bottom-up or top-down spreading
  • actuals and budgets can be stored in a single database allowing immediate variance reporting
  • more flexible analysing and reviewing of budgets
  • models moulded to fit exactly your organisation's  budget methodology and format -  our solutions can be used to power your existing and most complicated budget and allocation templates without retraining your staff in a new software system
  • actuals and budgets stored in one place making forecasting and reporting easier. 

Create an enterprise-wide budget that can be viewed, reported on, and analysed as quickly as numbers can be entered - virtually in a fraction of the time you've spent before. Your budget will be based on up-to-the-instant Actuals, since data is synchronised automatically, directly from your transactional databases. Best of all, you'll make your entries in a fully functional Excel spreadsheet which in turn automatically updates the budget database for all to see - instantly. Our budget functionality represents true on-line processing of corporate information at its best.

Types of Budgets

BIOLAP has delivered budget solutions that include but are not limited to:

  • Revenue budgets - budgeting at a client level
  • Staff expense budgets - budgeting at an employee level for all employee related expenses
  • Capital expenditure budgets - budgeting at an asset level for costs and depreciation
  • Profit & Loss budgets - combining the results of revenues and expenses
  • Cash flow budgets - translating and phasing budgets to reflect anticipated cash flows

 

Forecasting

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Once a budget has been established (see Budgeting), the next objective is to achieve or exceed budgeted results. Forecasts are valuable tools that allow you to update projections during the year for known/actual results to date and anticipated changes to the assumptions for the remainder of the period.  This allows management to determine whether the organisation or parts of the organisation are still on track to achieve the committed budget. and to take the necessary corrective actions to improve the outcome during the remainder of the period.

Although some organisations only perform formal reforecasting exercises on a quarterly basis, many organisations are moving to more dynamic monthly or even rolling 12 month reforecasts. Understandably, it is therefore important that the forecast can be completed as quickly and accurately as possible. In many organisations the process is so time consuming that it seriously deminishes  the value achieved.

How are our Forecast Solutions Different? 

BIOLAP provides customised forecast solutions that use an OLAP multidimensional database and engine to store budget, actual and forecast data, assumptions and formulas centrally.  Users can interface with the model using Excel and Web-browser templates. The benefits of this approach include:

  • Timelines
    • If it takes days or weeks to create forecasts, the opportunity to analyse the near-term business scenario will be lost.
  • Immediate data for Actuals
    • Dynamically retrieved from transactional systems - which in turn serve as the basis for Forecast figures. This means an end to waiting for end-of-the-month, batched reports, as well as an end to redundant re-keying to prepare Actuals, Budget and Forecast data in composite reports.
  • Universal formula application
    • You decide the percentages, weighting and other metrics that affect your revised forecast figures - our solutions apply them across all areas, regions, products, etc. for fully automated calculations.
  • Use Excel
    • Users work within a familiar Excel environment. No lengthy classes to attend or programs to decipher. Just use Excel spreadsheets but with automatically-provided data and the power of combining hundreds of spreadsheets into one.
  • Share instantly throughout the enterprise
    • Whether on the LAN or accessing forecast cubes remotely, our Forecast solutions provide instant access and the certainty of working from the exact same version of the information.

 

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