Online business insurance broker Simply Business has selected Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise to replace Oracle Transactions to enable it to better respond to customer insight by analysing metrics and interactions from its website.
Simply Business insures more than 225,000 property owners, shops, and small and medium-sized businesses throughout the UK, but two years ago it lacked a focused business intelligence strategy, according to the company's chief operating officer, Chris Slater.
"We did our data exploration two years ago through a very traditional Oracle Transactions database and Microsoft Excel for pre-aggregated reports," he told Computing.
"If we had a business problem or challenge that any of our units wanted to test, there would be a bespoke request that would come into quite a small team, and those requests would then be serviced by us trying to grab that data and manipulate it through the Oracle database and send the report out. In the broadest sense, we didn't have a strategy around data at all," he said.
Previously, an analyst would scrutinise the request and upload the query to the Oracle database. An Oracle SQL developer would then retrieve the data through the query, collect the result, copy it into an Excel template and distribute the data back to the business owner.
But Slater explained that for a firm of Simply Business's size, this method was unsustainable for growth.
"We wanted to have data that was re-usable, robust, structured, and that would enable us to get insight out into the business. From a technology perspective this would have to be agile as, for example, we wanted to build products and launch them within weeks rather than months, and as the data models change significantly, we needed a solution and a warehouse that provided resilience, re-usability and a capability to scale," he said.
The insurer needed to deliver analyses, reports and statistics quickly and frequently to its developers, and wanted a system that would make it easy to integrate structured and semi-structured data for its business users.
Microsoft's stack, comprising SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), was selected, partly because it was in Gartner's upper quartile of BI products, but also because of the robustness it displayed on trial, said Slater.
"We brought in [consultancy firm] Adatis and engaged with them as specialists in that field, so they did the prototype for us. We could see benefits for us going forwards with what Microsoft was planning to release, and so after the pilot exercise and proof of concept, we rolled it out," he said.
Slater said that the insurer gave other products a "cursory glance" rather than going through a full tender process, but that alternatives from companies such as Oracle wouldn't give the firm the same capability.
[Please turn to page 2]