Software // Enterprise Applications
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11/4/2010
05:08 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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US Bank Takes BI Beyond Employees

Spreading access to business intelligence among employees is hard enough, but this bank's self-service ScoreBoard is aimed customers.

In a great example of democratization of business intelligence, Midwest regional player US Bank is ramping up a BI-powered ScoreBoard application that's already being used by more than 110,000 small business customers.

The ScoreBoard plan was hatched by US Bank's Payment Services division, which handles corporate cards and merchant processing for about one million small-business customers. The idea was to share insight by giving customers self-service access to dashboard-style tools for analyzing spending and revenue trends.

Many banks and credit cards are providing similar tools, but US Bank has differentiated the ScoreBoard, which was first launched this summer.

"We're adding industry data, so if you're, say, a restaurant owner in California and your sales are down this month or this quarter, you can use the Scoreboard to look at data on how other restaurants in California are doing and compare your performance," says Robert Kaufman, a senior vice president of US Bank's Payments Services division.

The industry data is aggregated from the VISA network and is broken down by state, month, quarter and year for more than 120 industries.

The goal of spreading access to BI has been kicking around for years, and research indicates that even the best deployments tend to top out at about 25% of employees. Costly BI seat licenses and complicated interfaces are partly to blame for the glass ceiling.

The gap between information haves and have nots could get even worse as demand for advanced predictive and statistical analytics grows (a topic Bob Evans recently addressed in this article).

BI vendors have responded to accessibility demands with new licensing approaches for Web-based delivery and, most particularly, dashboards and easy-to-understand data visualizations. US Bank is exploiting all of the above in its ScoreBoard project.

US Bank's ScoreBoard system is built on software from Information Builders. The vendor had an inside track because it provided the software for a years-old corporate card system at US Bank that serves millions of customers. Nonetheless, US Bank considered seven other vendors and asked Information Builders and two others to develop prototypes.

Information Builders was chosen because it presented the "best look" and a "reasonable" cost, according to Kaufman, though he declined to detail competitor names or pricing.

US Bank knew it wanted something very graphical, easy to use and easy to understand based on feedback gained through on-site visits with 24 small-business customers.

"We learned that small-business people generally hate the financial management part of running their business, and the information isn't easy for them to understand," Kaufman explains.

The separate ScoreBoards for tracking business card expenditures and merchant processing transactions were launched with little fanfare beginning in May. That gave the bank a chance to work out bugs and add must-have features. In late July, the bank started marketing the card-expenditure ScoreBoard, and in October it surpassed the 100,000-customer milestone.

The next major push will take place later this month when bank enables small-business customers to enter cash and check income to the merchant processing platform. That will enable customers a complete record and analysis capabilities on their total revenue stream, not just credit card transactions processed by US Bank. The goal is to make the bank's services more comprehensive and that much stickier.

"Customer turnover in the merchant processing space can be as high as 20% per year," Kaufman says. "We believe this will improve retention, and if we can reduce churn even a small amount, that will drive significant revenue savings."

The US Bank story came to my attention by way of the InformationWeek commenting system, a site feature that's available below every article. Jake Freivald, a vice president at Information Builders, commented that "a lot of people who aren't traditionally identified as 'knowledge workers' need right-place, right-time, easily consumed information to do their jobs more effectively."

That exchange led to an interview with Robert Kaufman and a story that's instructive for all BI practitioners.

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