BI software fights crime, saves little old ladies

The province of Alberta is using WebFocus to give its call centre workers more information on seniors who ask them for help. How the city of Houston sends data to computer-illiterate cops

Business intelligence isn't just for crunching numbers for big scary corporations: it's being used by public servants to keep communities safe and happy.

Project manager Peter Dartnell ventured down to Nashville for the Information Builders Summit from Alberta to share how the provincial ministry of seniors and community supports has used Information Builders' WebFocus product to streamline its call center and frontline worker operations, and will help people research care facilities in the future.

The 2004 election saw the ministry's staff increase from 200 to over 2000 after the portfolio reassignment, Dartnell said, "We had rapid growth in a little while, with different architectures and technologies under one roof. But with the human services, we can't have any impact on our operations."

"Business intelligence used to be in the province of the Fortune 500 companies, but over time, more companies are entering the market, and the last few years have seen a rather large influx of small to medium-sized businesses looking at it in a serious way. Large health care facilities have started, but it has filtered down to the federal and state and local levels," said Wayne Eckerson, director of research and services with the Data Warehousing Institute.

Putting together a business intelligence strategy was a challenge, as much of the data was sectioned off and the public nature of the operation meant that it was difficult to do a long-term plan.

Working with the Canada-based OA Solutions, Dartnell wanted to push out business intelligence to the front-line staff. They went with a WebFocus program for the call center staff that gave them a more holistic view of the seniors' and community members' information in one place and in real-time.

They also put together an XML-based Yahoo maps feature that helps front-line workers track location-based issues. The workers can also use roles-based portals to contain their internal and operational issues, business intelligence, and content management all in one active desktop. The public can benefit from these portals as well. Long-term care facility inspectors can input their results into their portals, which will eventually feed into a public engine that will allow people to research facilities, which will become more important as more private facilities pop up for the ever-aging population. "It's not about busting them, but about pushing them toward compliance," said Dartnell.

Cops are getting on board with business intelligence, too. Present at Information Builders Summit 2008 were two police departments that have used WebFocus to more effectively fight crime.

Captain Mark Eisenman of the Houston Police Department heads up the crime analysis unit. Calls that come into Houston's Emergency Centre are routed by iWay software to the crime analysts, who scrub the data and then send it out to the police officers' mobile units in their police cars.

The ease of use had to be there for the officers. Said Eisenman: "These people aren't very computer-literate: the people on CSI are, but we're not!" Centralized, real-time comments help officers keep on top of crimes and criminals, while a simple search interface allows them to find what they need.

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