Cardif Pinnacle, South Africa's specialist underwriter of protected repayment insurance, motor shortfall and other unique payment protector insurance products, has replaced a nine-year-old business intelligence (BI) system with Progress Software's EasyAsk natural English query application.
Within a week, the company was drawing information through the EasyAsk system. In the past Cardif Pinnacle relied on programmers from its UK headquarters to create and manage its reporting environment that contained two disparate systems: operating and accounting.
"Companies only buy technology to improve their business processes, and EasyAsk is about obtaining the value out of existing investments," says Rick Parry, MD of Progress Software South Africa.
Cardif Pinnacle now generates reports required by legislation, for risk calculations and performance management in five minutes as opposed to nine months, and it has linked previously disparate operating and accounting systems. Three months after installation, Cardif Pinnacle had also mapped its processes and removed duplication from three disparate systems that handled client information.
EasyAsk R10, the natural English intelligence search and navigation software, was recently launched in South Africa, and is frequently termed the Google of BI. Business users have traditionally accessed information through search, query and reporting solutions deployed by IT.
"Search is ineffective against enterprise data applications and does not always answer the question," says Parry. "It returns a long list of results based on keywords, which means users still have to manually sift through results to find the answer to their question."
Most business people don't know how to use query languages or report writers unless they've been specifically trained to do so. It's an acceptance and usage hurdle.
EasyAsk's success is due to its ability to interpret plain, natural English questions and deliver contextualised results based on business information from a number of sources.
"EasyAsk brings the same ease of use to business intelligence that users have come to expect from Google," says Parry. "It allows users to interrogate their applications' data sets by using ordinary English sentences, and without their having any knowledge of the structure of the underlying data."
Examples of actual customer queries are: "Which patients with a discharge age greater than 90 days have not made a payment?"; "Report the sum of personal auto policies, sorted by activation month and branch."; "Which products had the highest unit sales in the drop-ship warehouse in 2006?"; "Which employees rated exceptional or above in their annual performance review?"; and "Show new business and renewal coverage premiums by rating territory and policy number, written in 2006."
It is a radical shift from the traditional BI environment characterised by technically complex query and reporting tools that interrogate the underlying data sources in online analytical processing (OLAP), relational OLAP (ROLAP) and multidimensional OLAP (MOLAP) environments.
"Business users don't want to be trained how to use tools," says Parry. "They want results and they want answers to questions. "EasyAsk gives them that through a familiar interface that even looks similar to Google."