The Discovery Group is well-known for its consumer-driven health care and wellness model that emphasises lifestyle management and has since grown to encompass multiple disciplines. To enable its new vision and products, as well as speed of access to new markets, a business intelligence solution had become essential to the group.
As John Robertson, chief operations officer (COO) at Discovery Group, points out, the company has grown and diversified considerably since its inception in 1993.
“Our success lies in our ability to manage the complexities of life insurance and health care for customers, helping them cope with risk by pricing products and structuring benefits correctly,” he says.
“This has seen the launch of new products in overseas markets. However, boosting and enhancing business development is dependent on our ability to analyse data and make informed decisions,” he says.
“By 2004, it became apparent that we needed a single business intelligence solution that would provide us with a clearer understanding of our markets and customers, allowing us to offer them a better service and the right products,” Robertson explains.
“In addition, expansion into global markets drove the requirement for increased corporate governance as we were dealing with a variety of legislation in addition to that applicable to the South African market.”
In the US, for example, Discovery’s subsidiary Destiny Health has to adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that came into force in September 2003 to protect the privacy of individuals’ personal health information.
At the same time, the Act requires that information be available when needed to provide individuals with services and to monitor, evaluate and improve the health system.
This highlighted the need for a proper information distribution system especially as the subsidiary’s back office infrastructure is managed in South Africa.
The challenges Discovery faced included consolidating numerous disparate departmental business intelligence systems and bringing new business intelligence components into the existing, highly-complex environment in such a way that they could be seen as an extension of existing systems.
The groundwork was laid with the development of a data warehouse, with an inhouse team of IT professionals gaining considerable proficiency in the development and application of data warehousing methodologies.
Robertson explains: “The data warehouse is the foundation of the BI initiative and we needed infrastructure and technology flexible enough to handle our future business requirements. Today, an operational data store is in place to enable the company to optimally leverage its data.”
Discovery needed a business intelligence solution that could address different issues in different market segments, Robertson adds.
“We were looking for a solution that would satisfy our requirements for consistent and reliable information and be capable of addressing the analytic demands of our multi-faceted business.
“We assessed solutions employed by world leaders in the insurance and banking markets. These are highly competitive and dynamic sectors with a strong focus on governance and confidentiality.
“Cognos business intelligence offers organisations in these segments the benefits of access to consistent information; the ability to obtain a deeper insight into operations, trends and market shifts and make better informed decisions; and the assurance that information complies with legislation and regulations governing data confidentiality.”
Discovery embarked on a proof of concept phase over a six-month period and a decision was taken in December 2004 to deploy Cognos ReportNet for reporting and Cognos PowerPlay for analytics.
BI Planning Services (BIPS), a business intelligence solution provider, was appointed to assist with installation and skills transfer to the Discovery IT team. BIPS was selected for its exposure to BI best practices and deep experience in scoping, designing and implementing BI solutions.
Corniel Lubbe, director at BIPS, comments: “Discovery is highly focused on skills development within its organisation. Rather than outsourcing its requirements directly to BIPS and Cognos, we assisted in training Discovery’s IT team to do the installation, as well as the technical and report authoring.”
The business intelligence market is faced with a huge shortage of skills so it made sense for Discovery to empower its own staff, who participate in user groups to ensure continual improvement and the acquisition of new skills. The company is now in a position to begin reaping the benefits of the solution.
The task for Discovery is to migrate users across operational divisions and disparate business intelligence solutions, to the new system. To do this it needs to deliver the appropriate training and determine and apply standards and best practices for analysis.
As Robertson says: “We must make decisions every day in terms of how to improve our products and react to competition. Our aim is to allow our experts to perform the role of analysts using BI to provide consistency of business interpretation.”
Future challenges for Discovery include obtaining an expanded view of operations and business dependencies through the implementation of scorecards, the use of metrics and event management, and the creation of dashboards as a foundation for corporate performance management.
“Now that the critical implementation work has been done and the business intelligence architecture is established, we expect fast uptake across the business,” says Robertson.
“The roll-out is highly anticipated as the end user community was closely involved in the proof of concept phase and has a clear idea of the benefits the BI solution will offer them.”
Discovery is already experiencing technical wins in terms of lower support and maintenance requirements, but the real value of the solution will be counted in market share and bottom line success.