BI Training Proves Key For Non-Profit Staff

A vitally important Canadian blood donor organization rolls out extensive training to help non-technical staff master their new BI reporting tools.
For Canadian Blood Services, a not-for-profit company that gathers blood and produces blood products for the Canadian healthcare system, the most challenging part of streamlining its BI system has been training its end users.

For the last two years, CBS, Ottawa, has been using software from Cognos to understand its core business functions, including inventory management, wastage in the manufacturing of blood products, and the efficiency of its 15,000 donor clinics, both mobile and fixed, across Canada. (CBS originally purchased Cognos software in 1999, but at first used it exclusively for analyzing the effectiveness of its donor-drive marketing campaigns.)

Over the last three years, more CBS employees in more departments gained access to BI tools on their desktops -- from nurses and lab managers in the field, to manufacturing and inventory managers elsewhere. Originally, IT wanted all those employees to use PowerPlay, Cognos' most complex and most functional interface, which lets users build their own reports using data gathered in OLAP cubes. "We thought we'd publish three or four cubes . . . and be off to races," said John Mazerall, data warehouse director at CBS. But IT overestimated the sophistication of those end users, who did not feel comfortable handling the front-end software. To deal with the problem, the company had to move away, temporarily, from PowerPlay, and install Impromptu, Cognos' simpler templated report published over the web. Nurses and lab people took much more readily to Impromptu, but those reports did not allow for much slicing-and-dicing of data.

This year, however, CBS has undergone an extensive PowerPlay training program for its employees, including online tutorials, which were entirely revamped by IT, and a series of half-day classroom sessions, which have proven to be the most successful teaching technique, Mazerall said. "Once you've sat them down," he said, "shown them all the features, shown them how to create their own calculations, then they can play around with the application and they become much more comfortable with it." Close to 300 out of 500 users have gone through training and either are ready to use PowerPlay or are already using it, according to Mazerall. A year ago, the number was only between 50 and 60.

To feed its analytics tools, CBS has an Oracle 9i data warehouse that pulls information from marketing and manufacturing databases, and from a system that tracks "everything that happens from when a donor walks into a clinic all the way until a unit of blood goes to a hospital," Mazerall said.

Because CBS receives its funding from provincial ministries -- the equivalent of state health agencies in the United States -- the company has to keep a sharp eye on costs. One of its more vital metrics, then, is the cost of blood collection from one site to the next. Specifically, that number is broken down into the amount of money it takes to collect one unit of blood, and compared across geographies and time periods. Other important metrics include the amount of waste that occurs during the manufacturing process (a bag of plasma may leak, for instance), the cost of testing blood for diseases, and the status of orders from hospitals. Also significant are inventory levels, since the company must maintain a minimum supply level in case of emergencies. Inventory managers are, in fact, the only CBS employees who have dashboards. Refreshed every day at 3 a.m., the dashboards provide a snapshot of supply.

The company does not yet use BI to analyze ERP functions, such as general financial data and payroll, but wants to provide that capability within the next 12 to 18 months, Mazerall said. CBS will look at both Cognos and reporting tools from SAP, the company's ERP platform.

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