In the race to move to the cloud, integration often gets overlooked. When cloud applications are siloed, the result is often many hours of manual work, just to transfer data from one app to another.
BPM Northwest has developed a cloud analytics solution that not only automates integration between cloud applications, but can also act as a cloud data warehouse for both cloud and on-premises data.
20 minutesto perform a monthly integration task that previously took one client two days
25%reduction in the cost of monthly financial closing processes for BPM’s clients
Opens upan exciting new market for BPM Northwest, fueling business growth
Business challenge story
Solving the cloud data integration challenge
Cloud computing has opened up a new world of possibilities—breaking down barriers to innovation to help organizations work more efficiently and grow faster. But as companies rush to take enterprise applications and data into the cloud, many are hitting a major roadblock: integration.
Matt Mercier, CTO of BPM Northwest, explains: “Many companies who migrate to the cloud take advantage of point solutions, choosing to host individual applications and data in completely separate, standalone cloud environments. Most cloud application vendors provide only minimal support for connecting their applications to apps from other companies, which leads to fragmented processes and data. As a result, it can turn into a real challenge for companies to conduct their day-to-day business.”
He gives an example: “One of our clients, a wealth management company, was facing this very dilemma. They had moved many of their core functions, such as accounting, financial planning and HR, to various best-of-breed cloud solutions. When the time came to run their monthly financial performance management processes, they needed to bring general ledger data from their accounting system into their financial planning system. But without a standard connector to move data between the two platforms, they had no easy way to handle that ETL [extract, transform and load] process.
“The client ended up having to manually extract the accounting data for nine corporate entities—which amounted to some 638 individual spreadsheets—then collate and format it all before they could import it into their financial planning system. The process was unsustainably time-consuming and labor-intensive, so they asked us to help find a solution as soon as possible.”
Launching a new app in hours
Fully aware that its client could not afford its financial planning to be delayed any longer, BPM Northwest looked to automate the cloud data integration process—and fast.
Joe Mackie, Vice President of Business Development at BPM Northwest, comments: “Most cloud systems provide APIs, and we knew that we could take advantage of this to build an application that could read and write data in and out of our client’s cloud systems. What we needed was a way to develop and deploy the application very quickly—and our immediate thought was to turn to IBM® dashDB™.”
IBM dashDB provides a cloud-based data warehousing and analytics solution that acts as a secure hub where data from the source system can be staged, transformed and even analyzed before being loaded into the target system.
Joe Mackie states: “The flexibility that dashDB offers is a key selling point for us. It makes it incredibly quick and easy for us to spin up new data warehousing environments for our clients. And as the platform is cloud-based, it means that scalability is practically limitless, and we can flex processing power and storage capacity up and down on demand.”
Although dashDB is available as a standalone cloud application, it is also available as a service via the IBM Bluemix® application development platform. For this particular use case, it was extremely beneficial for BPM Northwest to be able to harness Bluemix to deploy the new dashDB-based application quickly.
Matt Mercier continues: “In just one day, we spun up a new application server in Bluemix and had a working proof-of-concept ready to present to our client. It was as easy as writing some code to communicate with the APIs of the client’s cloud systems—dashDB and Bluemix pretty much took care of everything else!”
Seamless cloud data flow
Today, the ETL process couldn’t be easier for BPM Northwest’s client. With the new application, users simply select the source and target system, choose the date range for the data they want to import, and click a button to start the process.
By taking advantage of dashDB and Bluemix, BPM Northwest has helped its client to transform what was previously a time-consuming manual process into an automated, efficient way of moving data between cloud systems.
Matt Mercier notes: “Today, our client can bring data from their accounting system into their planning system in just a few clicks of a mouse. While in the past, this process took them two days to complete manually, they can now get it done in 20 minutes. What’s more, we estimate that they’re saving around 25 percent on their financial closing process, compared to paying internal resources or an external service provider to perform the same task.”
Adding greater value
Having delivered an ideal solution for its client’s initial pain point, BPM Northwest is going a step further to help them make the most of their enterprise data.
Joe Mackie comments: “We quickly realized that what we initially developed as a point solution for a specific business need could easily be generalized to serve a multitude of other purposes. Once we had built the API integrations for our clients’ cloud systems, we could start to use dashDB as more than an ETL tool—we could use it as a cloud data warehouse.
“For the first time, our client can bring together data from disparate cloud sources and integrate it into a single source of truth. They now have an integration point for all of their data, and can take advantage of dashDB to easily model and analyze it. And because the platform is so flexible, they can connect any analytics tools they want—including dashDB’s own powerful built-in tools, such as R.”
With its cloud data warehouse solution, BPM Northwest has tapped into a new commercial opportunity that has the potential to transform its business model and serve as a valuable competitive differentiator. The company is currently working to expand the cloud integration and data warehousing solution into a fully-fledged service offering for other clients.
Matt Mercier remarks: “We see a huge potential market for this kind of cloud integration service—it provides a very straightforward solution to a problem that many of today’s companies are facing as they move into the cloud. IBM Bluemix will play a leading part in this transformation. It is an incredibly flexible and fast development platform, and makes it very quick and easy for us to deliver new solutions for our clients.
“With a traditional development approach, we spent about 80 percent of our time standing up an environment and 20 percent of our time actually designing and building the application itself. Bluemix has absolutely turned that model on its head—it takes away all the tedious setup work so we can get right down to the value-add part of development and build some really great solutions for our clients.”
Joe Mackie concludes: “The range of cloud data services and analytics solutions that IBM now provides is impressive, and we plan to use them as our toolkit for all the future solution patterns that we develop. When a client comes to us with a problem, dashDB and Bluemix are now our first port of call. The cloud analytics capabilities bring a new level of agility to our operations, which will help us make the most of new growth opportunities and remain relevant in a market that is constantly changing.”
Founded in 2006, BPM Northwest is a data and analytics consultancy firm that specializes in data integration, performance management, business intelligence and advanced analytics. Its technical and financial consultants possess deep business and finance knowledge, combined with real-world experience gained from delivering hundreds of successful projects for leading organizations globally.
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Take the next step
To learn more about BPM Northwest, please visit: www.bpmnw.com IBM Cloud Data Services offers a complete portfolio of data and analytics services providing unique and seamless product integrations to build apps faster and gain new insights easier with flexible deployment and pricing options. For more information about how IBM Cloud Data Services can help businesses solve tough big data problems rapidly and cost-effectively, please visit ibm.biz/clouddataservices.