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8/15/2006
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Field Report: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee

Single View of the Truth: Structured and Unstructured

Artificial information boundaries are nothing but obstacles when it comes to providing true business intelligence. Structured, unstructured, internal, external? Business users who need a complete and timely view don't want to hear technical terms for data types. In the age of Google, they don't want to know about how hard it is to bring information together. They want more than access--they want to know what the information means.

Like most large organizations, BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) is bobbing in a sea of information. Regulatory compliance and strategic business decision-making imperatives have made it less and less tolerable for people to spend a huge chunk of their time searching for relevant information, much less for the organization to incur rising costs to integrate it. In 2005, BCBST put together an enterprise content management (ECM) strategy with a succinct mission: "Build an infrastructure to enable staff to more efficiently find and manage content, both internal and external to the company, and improve the quality of information available for reporting for decision makers."

The company then worked with its chief strategic information software vendors Cognos and IBM to help BCBST do more than just manage repositories. "We were being challenged by the business to deliver a provider-centric view," says Frank Brooks, senior manager of data resource management and chief data architect at BCBST. The single view needed to bring in everything about a particular health-care provider, including external news reports and other tidbits to go with information delivered from the data warehouse and content repositories. "BCBST negotiates rates and services payments with our provider partners," Brooks adds. "At the negotiating table, obviously the side with the best information is going to be the most effective."

BCBST's architecture, proof of concept and early projects are aimed at delivering more than just the information. "Based on our data warehouse, BI tools tell us what we are paying the provider, how many claims we did for a certain procedure and so on," Brooks explains. "But we needed to add unstructured information--and not just access to 10,000 service records. What are the records about? What do they have to do with errors in claims submissions? If we're negotiating rates with the provider tomorrow, no business user has time to read 10,000 records. Yet they need to know what the records really mean."

BCBST put together a set of BI and unstructured content access and analysis solutions to address the problem. Coordinating IBM's Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA) with its own vision, Brooks' group employed Websphere Information Integrator OmniFind and Cognos' Go! search engines. BCBST found it could use OmniFind and Go! together to reach BI metadata and make it available across the enterprise. Through Go! and Cognos Connection Services, BCBST users can do text searches against Cognos 8 BI applications and others.

To hone in on meaning, the company turned to ClearForest. "We've begun to use its Text Analytics engine to build a health-care terminology dictionary, which helps us derive new 'structured' data from the unstructured internal and external information," Brooks says. "Once it becomes structured, we can combine it with other structured data in common BI applications like Cognos and start to gain a true single view."

The ECM effort is on its way out of the proof-of-concept stage, with BCBST business executives beginning to line up to partner with Brooks' group and fund projects. BCBST is coordinating the ECM effort with a similar one for corporate performance management. Together, the systems will give BCBST decision-makers the whole truth--including what can be done about it. --David Stodder

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