McLeod Software builds a Business Intelligence Framework

Trucking and logistics companies often build custom reports with off-the-shelf tools such as Crystal Reports or spreadsheets that pull in data from operations or accounting databases. The more advanced spreadsheet users can change the presentation of data with pivot tables, but they are still limited by this static, one-dimensional reporting platform.

Furthermore, what good is a customized report that was built for a specific purpose when, two weeks later, the business environment changes? New problems require a platform that lets you ask new questions and get immediate answers.

Business intelligence (BI) can provide the missing link to this reporting dilemma. BI can provide businesses with quick, responsive, and intuitive research tools. The technology lets you view and analyze data across an enterprise in multiple perspectives and dimensions.

To apply the latest BI tools to the trucking industry, Don Prentice recently developed a new service offering for McLeod Software called the Business Intelligence Framework. At McLeod Software’s headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., Prentice will begin teaching a three-day, hands-on class for clients – including “non-techies,” starting the week of November 3, 2008.

The class teaches McLeod Software clients how to use the Microsoft Business Intelligence Toolset and SQL Server 2005 to synergize data from all of their information systems, not just the McLeod products they use.

“We want to give clients the ability to observe their data from different perspectives to ensure that they are making good and profitable decisions,”says Prentice, database administrator for McLeod Software.

Attendees will learn how to build the integration necessary to pull data from the McLeod product suite and any other OBDC-compliant data sources into one or more “data marts.” A data mart is a separate database that contains pre-processed information from multiple data sources. Companies create data marts specifically for different user groups in their organization, such as finance or operations.

As a next step, attendees will learn how to build a “cube,” a multi-dimensional model to analyze their data. Prentice describes a cube as a “pivot table on steroids” that allows users to ask questions by drilling down and viewing data from different perspectives.

“The cube allows companies to turn data on an axis to look at data anyway they want to look at it,” Prentice says.

Cubes are typically rendered in familiar applications such as Excel or a web browser. Cubes can be customized to different user needs, he says, such as creating dashboards for the operations manager and for the chief executive officer. The Business Intelligence Framework from McLeod does not force clients to use a particular toolset, however. The purpose of the class is “knowledge transfer,” Prentice says, for customers to learn to apply business intelligence tools within their own companies.

This past spring, McLeod Software helped Greatwide Truckload Management, a division of Greatwide Logistics Services and the third largest non-asset truckload carrier in the United States, build the framework for business intelligence, says Bob Hall, vice president of information technology.

Greatwide Truckload Management uses the McLeod LoadMaster enterprise software. Initially, the company used the framework to build “heavier” analysis tools in finance and accounting, he says. For example, the company created new P&L statements at the terminal and agency levels that have a much greater degree of detail and sophistication than previously, Hall says.

“With the detail and information we are able to use, we can make those decisions that are very prudent as a company – to understand who are the winners and who are not in business.”