BI BoomingMANILA–Anyone that needs proof business intelligence (BI Booming) and analytics is indeed flourishing in the Philippines need only look at retail giant, SM. The country’s biggest mall operator has placed so much emphasis on the technology that it created a separate BI unit under its IT department. By forming a dedicated division, SM has effectively ushered BI into the big league–a place once reserved only for software tools such as ERP and CRM. With the exploding commercialism in the country, mall operators such as SM and its main rival Robinsons have all taken up BI and analytics as a way to examine customer trends and to understand the needs of the market. So far, the software implementations have brought visible results to SM, an executive told ZDNet Asia. “Unlike before when we had to process transactions for hours, we now see in minutes which branches had consistent sales and those that still have enough supplies,” said Pauline Lovino, a BI specialist at the BI division of SM’s IT department. Vendor trends also reflect BI’s increasing importance and relevance. German vendor SAP, for instance, has made its BI offerings the main bait for its flagship ERP product. But the significance of BI and analytics in the Philippines can perhaps be gleaned from SAS Institute, which anchored its success on just three inter-related offerings–BI, analytics and data mining. Some of the largest players in the local market, including the country’s tax agency, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, are using SAS software. Cost, data volume hamper adoption That said, BI and analytics has remained the domain of large companies such as SM and Robinsons. Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in the country have generally shunned the technology, primarily due to cost. Among large BI vendors, the cost of the BI and analytics software varies by implementation and typically depends on the scale of the project. The cost factor, interestingly, has opened a window for open source BI providers which have begun to entice SMBs to deploy BI and analytics at a fraction of the cost of proprietary software. One such vendor is Orange & Bronze (O&B), a local firm specializing on open source solutions which is the Philippine partner of U.S.-based open source BI provider Pentaho. O&B also forged a tie-up in October 2010 with India-based open source firm GrayMatter Software Services, which said it had signed up a large Philippine retailer to help improve their customer retention process using Pentaho BI solutions. “BI tools help them better understand the buying behavior of their customers, customer spend and products of interest” said GrayMatter executive Prem Kakani. “This helps them in building better loyalty programs [and better target] marketing efforts to help serve their customers better.” The adoption of BI and analytics software in the healthcare area is quite different, however–at least among government medical institutions. According to Dr. Alvin Marcelo, former director of the National Telehealth Center, BI has “not yet taken traction in the public sector mainly because of lack of large volume datasets”. To that end, only institutions with such resources can seriously consider BI for now, he said. However, Marcelo cited PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Agency) as an example of a “ready” organization, noting that it has “terabytes of data”. “In fact, there [has been] a heightened interest in BI in PhilHealth since 2005, and this is part of their [technology] roadmap,” he said. “The next most ready [agency] would be the DOH (Department of Health).” Healthcare BI hotting up Marcelo, an advocate of open source software, also suggested there are BI opportunities waiting to be tapped by the sector. Large volume datasets, he noted, already exist in many health facilities. “Those which have purchased telemetry systems [such as Holter] and imaging [equipment including MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) systems] may not be aware but there is BI potential with those datasets,” he said. “You only need to be creative and imaginative to extract the intelligence from them.” He added that most healthcare institutions in the country are looking at BI booming, but said they “will have to contend with EMR (electronic medical records) first for their practice management” for them to accumulate enough data. Realistically, “individual practices” can look to performing simple content analysis of EMR data while hospitals which have access to larger datasets would derive more value from BI, he stressed. Tech giant IBM, which also sells BI software, agreed with Marcelo’s assessment. “Local healthcare service providers will need to transform to patient-centered, information-rich organizations. This means building proficiency in health analytics is a must to deliver evidence-based, coordinated and accountable care,” Big Blue said. Marcelo noted that BI offerings “have been costly”, but the entry of open source BI has made the technology accessible to even smaller players. “I think [open source BI providers] are serious contenders in the BI booming,” he said. This interest in open source BI booming is now growing, according to Pentaho distributor O&B and GrayMatter, which executives said they are “currently in discussions with some of the healthcare providers in the Philippines”. “We are confident of succeeding in acquiring a couple of clients in this vertical in the coming months,” said GrayMatter’s Kakani. Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.