Irish Life chooses Tableau over QlikView, Oracle

Irish Life chose Tableau for data visualisation to put an end to its “MIS Monday madness” of Excel spreadsheets. Power users build their own dashboards while IT mentors and develops data sources.

Irish Life Group has chosen Tableau for data visualisation to put an end to what Paul Egan, IT manager for business intelligence at the life assurance company, called the “MIS Monday madness” of Excel spreadsheets and Microsoft Access.

The company chose Tableau over QlikTech and Oracle following a two-month proof of concept earlier this year. Tableau is also in use by the pensions part of the group.

Gerry Hassett, CEO at Irish Life Retail had asked for a BI dashboarding tool that was compelling, easy to build to and use, and that looked great.

“So, not a lot to ask for,” joked Egan.

Denis McLoughlin, the company’s general manager of finance and IT, joined Irish Life from another part of the group three years ago. He has urged IT “to build compelling systems,” and get beyond the bland, “which is what we had with our BI applications,” he said.

The company was founded in 1939, has over one million customers and €31 billion of assets under management.

There are 75 IT development staff in the life part of the group. Egan’s four-person BI team likes to control its own destiny.

“We tend not to outsource anything,” he said of the IT department. “We lead all the architect and design role ourselves and are good at getting command of new technologies ourselves.”

Before the data visualisation technology, BI consumers at the firm were beset by the “Monday madness of copying and pasting spreadsheets and emailing them around to satisfy their audiences,” Egan said. “It was also static BI, with little trends analysis, just numbers.”

The company, which has an Oracle data warehouse, had previously used Oracle Discoverer, he said, but “that only had very basic graphs. It sort of suited a company with many actuaries and accountants. They like their numbers. But they were not getting so much value from the numbers.”

Coincidentally, the company had been a Siebel CRM customer but had struggled with Siebel Analytics, which Oracle acquired in 2005.

Irish Life engaged Tableau reseller MXI Computing to help with a proof-of-concept project in March and April, running Tableau. Egan’s team also ran QlikView and Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition in the proof-of-concept project. Egan said the reseller “put in a huge amount of time,” and worked the relationship with Tableau in Seattle at a time when MXI had no assurance of any revenue. “Tableau said it was one of the toughest evaluations of any customer they’d ever sold to. It’s easier to sell if it’s just a matter of say £5,000 on a few local computers.”

The cost, modelled on 300 concurrent users was $300,000 (€225,000), Egan confirmed. The deal was for 12 core server licences, 30 developer licenses and three years’ maintenance.

“Tableau was easiest to work with by a considerable distance and delivered tremendous dashboards,” said Egan. He reported his team found QlikView more akin to Microsoft Visual Studio, requiring a degree of programming skill. Tableau was more like working in Excel.

Egan wanted business power users to do a lot of the dashboarding themselves, “coming to us with the symphony written.”

They bought the software in June, had training in July and installed the server in August. The first dashboards for the executive management group went live on 6 October. “It was astonishingly fast,” said Egan. The dashboards are accessible to business executives, account managers and the CEO.

The company has reporting applications deployed in sales, business retention, costs by functional areas, human resources and online usage. Fifteen business power users are working with an IT team of four, focused on identifying new data to be put in place and “modest degrees of ETL [extract, transform and load].”

“My vision is that we enable data sources for power users to build the dashboards, then come back to us, and IT transfers to production then” Egan said.

Among the business benefits that users are reporting is being able to see patterns in the retention of pensions contracts, important in a difficult economy. “Just because [a salesperson’s] numbers are green and positive, it might not mean they are in a great place compared with colleague whose numbers are red and negative if the trend lines are showing a declining situation.

“We can see nooks and crannies that would heretofore be hidden.”

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