How to Choose and Deploy a Transformative BI Solution: The Irish Life Story

This white paper explores the systematic process Irish Life, the largest pension funds management company in Ireland, used to select and deploy a business intelligence solution. Any company seeking better BI performance can learn from the comprehensive decision criteria Irish Life developed, the insights they gained during their search, the proof of concept they completed, and the lessons they learned during deployment.

We've also pulled out the first several pages of the whitepaper for you to read. Download the PDF on the right to read the rest.

With 31 billion Euro under management, Irish Life Financial Services is the largest pension funds management company in Ireland. The company was also voted best life insurance company by brokers in both 2010 and 2011. Over the past five years, Irish Life has paid over a billion Euro in life insurance benefits to thousands of families.

In 2011, with four years of experience directing Irish Life’s Business Intelligence Competency Centre, Senior IT Manager Paul Egan led the search for a new BI platform. This white paper explores the systematic process by which Egan and his team selected and deployed Tableau. Any company seeking better BI performance can learn from the comprehensive decision criteria Irish Life developed, the insights they gained during their search, the proof of concept they completed, and the lessons they learned during deployment.

Legacy Solution

The BI solution Irish Life purchased from a major vendor in 2006 had been roundly disappointing in terms of usability and performance. Five years later, the company was deeply frustrated by:

  • Slow response times
  • Dull, visually unappealing dashboards
  • Inability to integrate with Active Directory security system (separate log-in required)
  • Lack of email, web, or smart phone distribution options

They attempted a limited deployment of a new offering acquired by their provider, but it did not go well. Egan and his team determined that it was time for a whole new vision for BI at Irish Life.

Decision Criteria & Initial Search

Irish Life wanted to make business intelligence a core tool for decision-making. To achieve this goal, they needed a compelling BI solution that would be accessible to power business users with limited IT education, not just highly trained IT developers.

Egan’s team developed five key criteria for identifying their ideal solution:

  1. User friendly and easy to learn
  2. Graphical presentation options
  3. Ad hoc analysis and data discovery capabilities
  4. Integration with Active Directory (security)
  5. Seamless email, web, and smart phone strategy

“That’s not a lot to ask for really,” said Egan’s boss, the head of IT at Irish Life, as they began their search—but the options were not immediately encouraging. Like many companies, Irish Life started by looking at solutions from established mega-vendors. Fortunately, they contacted Gartner, Inc., the highly respected global IT research and advisory firm, to validate their short list, and Gartner suggested they also consider alternatives to the traditional mega-vendors.

In their initial analysis of seven solutions, Egan’s team found:

  • Mega-vendor solutions did not deliver impressive visualization options.
  • Mega-vendor solutions were not intuitive for business users with modest IT experience.
  • Some mega-vendor options were compatible with existing technology infrastructure, but others would have required significant additional investment in other platforms from the same vendor to enable a successful deployment.
  • Next-generation solutions were much more visually compelling and easy to use.
  • One solution was limited to analyzing in-memory data only, a potential barrier requiring continuous upgrading of memory to keep up with growth.
  • Licensing options varied considerably in cost and
  • clarity.

Proof of Concept

Following their initial search, Irish Life was already starting to favor Tableau, but they wanted to thoroughly test their decision. Egan decided to conduct a proof of concept comparing Tableau, the latest solution from their previous provider, and one other next-generation solution. The proof of concept focused on replicating existing reports and creating new ones with more visualizations.

To evaluate the proof of concept, Irish Life expanded their previous decision criteria to include:

  • Data definition layer. They wanted a strong end user layer sitting on top of database schemas that would be easy to use and maintain.
  • Rapid development capability. In addition to the ability to build new dashboards quickly, they wanted to be able to repurpose and adapt old ones iteratively.
  • Compelling usability and visualizations. They needed ease of use and impressive presentations to help move BI to a more central place in the life of the business.
  • Performance. They needed to be able to support 300 concurrent users during peak periods.
  • Ad hoc analysis and data discovery. They wanted to empower business users to explore their own data and build their own reports.
  • Mail, web, and smart phone integration. They needed a provider with a smart, flexible strategy that would support evolving distribution options.
  • Security. They wanted to integrate with Active Directory and define roles limiting what data was accessible to each user
  • Cost. They were willing to invest, but were “not particularly flush.” They also wanted a clear licensing structure that would scale with their needs.

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