Of the benefits the insurance provider Delta Dental of Virginia has accrued from its use of business intelligence software, the biggest can't really be tallied in dollars and cents or other hard metrics. It's one of those squishy-soft people pluses.
"To be honest, I think the biggest benefit is the improvement in the culture here," says John Sheffield, director of software development at Delta.
Over the course of the last four years, Delta has spawned a culture of knowledge workers, thanks to the analytics, dashboard, and reporting capabilities it's employed. People don't just scan and then pass along reports anymore -- they actually read them.
"We're at a point now where they really understand the data sufficiently and can go in and analyze that data and come up with interesting concepts as to where the organization at large should be going relative to pricing or product offerings or things of that nature," Sheffield says.
This cadre of knowledge workers doesn't just hail from departments like the underwriting and provider relations groups that tend to draw more data-oriented people anyway. Now BI- and data-hungry folks live in all the operational departments, from claims processing to marketing, plus upper management, he said.
Seeing people actively engaged in figuring out how they can help make the business better is a wonderful thing, Sheffield says. "And now that they have the capabilities and the tools that let them readily do that, it's not this Herculean effort beyond mere mortals to get the information together and analyze it."
Delta has gone an open-source route for its BI initiative, using the Pentaho BI suite. Several capabilities have come out of the BI effort for various user constituencies. For example:
- Underwriters can now run ad-hoc queries, build relational or dimensional models, analyze the information, and make more data-driven decisions. They might create a model to see how Delta is doing by group and how it could do better on pricing. "We might earn more people's business, or we might find where we're leaving a little bit of margin on the table -- you never know."
- Provider relations personnel can monitor claims data via a homegrown tool that sits on top of the BI software and detects "abhorrent behavior" by providers that Delta reimburses as part of its network. "This is an attempt to reduce fraud and abuse and therefore save premiums for our groups and subscribers."
The tool already has served Delta "extremely well," Sheffield said, citing a substantial fraud case settled this year based on data from the system.
- The senior management team has just started to get off the ground with dashboards, getting near-real-time access to how the business is faring from operational and financial perspectives. Previously, business managers reported this information via Excel spreadsheets and in PowerPoint presentations. "Now it's all really just a click away, so to speak. They can go online and clearly see how the business is faring against KPIs set in place by the board."
Additional enhancements, such as increased interactivity, will come in October, Sheffield said.
- Software developers build the OLAP cubes needed for data mining but then step aside and let the underwriters run their queries at will, leaving themselves to focus on other business needs. "Before we had Pentaho in place, we were having to constantly run extracts that underwriters would then in turn import into tools like Access or, if the data was small, Excel. Now we don't have to be involved at all."
Self-service has become a mantra, and BI has become inculcated in the company's culture, Sheffield says.
"You can't go to a meeting from a strategic or analytical perspective where the word 'BI' isn't brought up -- and I can tell you for a fact that even as little as two years ago, that was unheard of. Nobody would even mention it."
People see the advantage of BI now that they've got the right tools in hand, he said. "We're getting into the essence of what we all understand as BI, where we're analyzing data for the good of the organization from a strategic, forward-looking view, as opposed to relying on static management reports, which are backwards looking."