The Peabody Group
Founded in 1862 by the American banker, diplomat and philanthropist George Peabody, The Peabody Group now owns 17,500 homes and its mission is as alive today as it was in 1862: to make London a city of opportunity for all by ensuring as many people as possible have a good home, a real sense of purpose and a strong feeling of belonging.
To achieve this objective, Peabody works towards four key aims:
- provide great services and quality homes
- build thriving communities
- achieve influential growth and
- achieve business excellence
Two fundamental principles underpin Peabody's business plan: the belief that customers are at the heart of all that the Group does and that the group's financial strength must be sustained and used to improve services and grow.
Recognising the need for reliable information delivery
An advanced and comprehensive IT infrastructure is critical to the ongoing success of Peabody; as is the provision of a Business Intelligence solution built around an up-to-date and trusted data warehouse that empowers personnel across the organisation to access information and generate reports that allow the right decisions to be taken at the right time.
Although Peabody has had a Business Intelligence solution based upon Cognos technology since 1998, Peabody's IT department was aware that management was not entirely confident in the contents, accuracy and reliability of the existing data warehouse.
“Peabody had taken the decision to replace the current Business Intelligence solution with the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack,” explained Grahame Points – an external consultant brought in by The Peabody Group as Project Manager. “This project has a number of objectives: the two most important being the implementation of a comprehensive and trusted data warehouse that would consolidate all of the information held across the Group; and the delivery of a powerful, intuitive Business Intelligence Reporting System that would devolve the generation of reports to the user-base.”
As with many larger organisations, Peabody's existing Business Intelligence solution relied heavily upon the IT department to customise reports. This practice diverted the IT department away from business-critical projects, and as it was not always possible for IT personnel to immediately stop their existing development work to generate new reports, delayed the delivery of important information.
Some 2 months into the project, Peabody was approached by Consolidata – a Microsoft partner and certified technology specialist with many years experience in providing highly specialised data warehousing and Business Intelligence consultancy services, as well as designing, developing and delivering Business Intelligence and data warehouse solutions across a wide range of industries.
“Consolidata's timing could not have been better,” continued Grahame. “Internally, Peabody has a highly experienced IT team but lacked some of the advanced specialist techniques that we needed to ensure the successful development of this complex solution. External training courses were an option, be we felt that we would be better served by partnering with an organisation such as Consolidata, who would be able to advise on us best practice, review our development, suggest alternative techniques and transfer to us the specific specialised knowledge that was crucial to the project.”
Following meetings to ascertain the project's objectives, 3 of Consolidata's consultants - Gordon Meyer, Dwain Goulbourne and Mark Dodd began working in partnership with Peabody's IT specialists, providing expertise into structured data warehouse design (using Kimball star schema methodology) and an understanding of current best practices in Microsoft SQL Server database – SSIS, SSAS and SSRS.
“It made sound economic sense to „buy-in‟ this high level of specialist technical knowledge,” said Grahame. “There were certain technological aspects of the project where external expertise was invaluable and it was in these areas that Consolidata delivered brilliantly. For those Peabody staff whose ETL expertise was primarily doing everything in T-SQL within DTS, SSIS can be initially hellish in determining the most efficient methodology for specific data manipulations. Discussing the options with Consolidata gave us early confidence that we were not wasting time and money.
Best Practice approach
“We found that Peabody already had a high level of in-house expertise,” explained Mark Dodd, one of Consolidata's Directors and a specialist in data manipulation, analysis and data warehouse design. “But even an IT team as capable as that in Peabody cannot expect to be fully familiar with all aspects of technology development – particularly in skills that are rarely required. By partnering with Peabody we were able to provide mentoring and knowledge transfer to ensure a best practice approach that would deliver the features and capabilities that Peabody required.”
One of the areas in which Consolidata's experience and expertise was most appreciated was the in the development of an OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) cube to ensure that Peabody would be able to analyse its data in a multi-dimensional way. “Cubes are extremely efficient entities for storing summary levels and hierarchies,” added Mark. “By developing and implementing an OLAP cube, Peabody could achieve unrivalled flexibility in the way that their data can be analysed, evaluated and compared against past performance and trends.”
Consolidata's familiarity with complex cube development, combined with Peabody's existing technical expertise, enabled the rapid development of an initial cube. “Consolidata oversaw the process, gave advice and made suggestions as to how we could enhance the process,” added Grahame. “The knowledge transfer at this stage was invaluable and has subsequently saved us a considerable amount of time and effort through our adherence to best practice; an example would be incorporating parameterised SSIS configuration from the outset allowing painless delivery across Development, Test and Production platforms.”
Further support and advice were provided by Consolidata during the development of the new data warehouse. It was essential that all stakeholders across The Peabody Group would be fully confident in the accuracy and integrity of the new warehouse, and the winning combination of Consolidata's knowledge and experience, combined with the technical ability of Peabody's IT team will ensure that this is the case.
The Peabody Group's Business Intelligence programme is still ongoing and is expected to deliver significant benefits throughout the organisation. A trusted data warehouse was the first step in the process, but with the massively enhanced Business Intelligence and reporting capabilities that the Microsoft stack will deliver, virtually anyone within the Group will be able to generate the reports that they need, when they need them and in their preferred format without involving the IT department.
“Such a wide-ranging project can be daunting,” concluded Grahame. “Consolidata's wide-ranging skills have been invaluable. Through mentoring and knowledge transfer Consolidata has given us the confidence to delve in and work things out for ourselves and have ensured that our development tightly adheres to best practice techniques. A timely approach from Consolidata has grown into a useful partnership that has directly improved and enhanced our development skills and techniques, saves us a great deal of experimental time and effort and will result in a powerful, comprehensive and widely used Business Intelligence solution that will considerably enhance the decision making process through the Group.”