Better BI: Boyne Resorts

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BI projects are frequently driven by the demands of executives who want to scour dashboards to analyze sales and other business trends. But at Boyne Resorts, the company's BI directive was marshaled by its CIO.

In 2007, Chris Downing, who was Boyne's IT chief at the time, asked Noah Meister, then an up-and-coming help desk support person, to take the lead on the company's BI effort. Downing wanted dashboards and various reports that executives in sales, marketing and other business units could sift through to get a better understanding of customer behavior.

It didn't matter that Meister had no BI training or experience at that point in his career. Meister says he was given the BI responsibilities after Downing saw promise in the way he attacked technical and business problems on the help desk.

At a Glance

A family-run, mountain and golf resort operator in Boyne Falls, Mich., Boyne Resorts owns properties such as Crooked Tree Golf Club in Michigan, Loon Mountain in New Hampshire and Big Sky Resort in Montana.

-- Project champion: Noah Meister, technical services corporate director

-- Project cost and payback: US$22,500 in first-year software licensing and support fees and $2,000 for training. Meister estimates that the project has already paid for itself.

-- Size of the IT group: 16 IT staffers in the corporate office; 24 at the various resorts.

Meister began by trying to find a better way for the company to generate reports and information for its top decision-makers. Previously, reports were generated strictly by using Business Objects' Crystal Reports, which had its limitations, he says.

"Every time somebody wanted something different from a report, we'd either have to rewrite a report or write an entirely new report," says Meister. Plus, business executives questioned why data in some of the reports didn't always mesh, he adds.

"We wanted to have the same way of reporting information across all of the resorts," says Meister. He evaluated a few open-source BI systems, including SpagoBI and JasperSoft, but he found that it took two to three weeks just to set up each tool and load the data.

In contrast, a test version of Orlando-based Pentaho Corp.'s BI platform came preloaded with "fake" data, which made it easier "to show management what was possible with the tools," says Meister.

One of the first Pentaho-based reports that Meister put together for Boyne's marketing department utilized a mashup of Google Maps to plot the 50 North American cities that generated the most visitors to the company's resorts over a two-year span. Using the electronic report, which Meister created in February 2007, members of Boyne's marketing team could click on color-coded pushpin icons to learn more about customer behavior at each resort, such as the number of visits and how many nights they stayed. Meister has since assembled other reports that use Pentaho's Google Maps feature, including a visual representation of the types of season passes that ski and water park patrons purchase and where the passes are used.

One of the perks of licensing the Pentaho BI suite, says Meister, is that Boyne didn't have to purchase any additional database servers or software to support it. The application and database components of the Pentaho system run on one of Pentaho's Windows 2003 servers, says Meister.

IDC analyst Dan Vesset says companies that attempt to marry BI and Web 2.0 technologies in mashups need to beware of the "wow" factor. "Companies that start deploying any of these technologies because they're cool and the latest thing to do aren't going to be successful," he says.

That doesn't appear to be a problem at Boyne. For example, when Meister put together a report on ski ticket sales last year, he uncovered a few "anomalies" that skewed some of the sales figures. Boyne ended up modifying a few of the business processes around how lift tickets are sold, says Meister.

That effort, along with sales and marketing opportunities that reports from the Pentaho system have delivered, has helped prove the value of the BI investment, he says.

"We haven't done an ROI analysis," says Meister, "but in my opinion, the system has paid for itself."

This story, "Better BI: Boyne Resorts" was originally published by Computerworld.

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