Marvin F. Poer Gets a Competitive Edge With WebFOCUS Customer-Facing BI Environment
Property Tax Consultant Uses WebFOCUS to Deliver Game-Changing Analytics to Customers
Headquartered in Dallas, Texas and with 14 offices throughout the U.S., Marvin F. Poer and Company is one of the nation’s leading property tax advisors, with expertise in real estate, personal property, and the complex valuation issues associated with commercial properties. The company’s information services department employs ten people who support 200 employees.
While many companies use business intelligence (BI) technology to analyze business data and support internal decision-making, Marvin F. Poer and Company wanted to go a step further by rolling out BI applications not only to internal employees, but also to customers.
With help from Information Builders Professional Services, Poer used the Information Builders WebFOCUS BI platform to create a customer-facing dashboard environment that delivers key business metrics about the status of real estate, personal property, and administrative processes. Dubbed Client Connect, the BI environment enables customers to review in-depth information on values, appeals, historical tax information, and more, for each property in their portfolios. Authorized users can log into Client Connect to view their property tax data from more than 120 different views, quickly homing in on valuation and tax payment details, collector profiles, tax rates, tax bills, appeal status, and many types of property-specific tax events.
“For 46 years we have made it our business to listen to our clients and respond to their needs,” says Tom Rawlston, senior vice president of information services and specialty property at Poer. “Recently, we have seen an increasing demand for self-service access to information about their properties, portfolios, and myriad management details. We met this need with a self-serve, external-facing BI application that allows customers to view complex and detailed data in a simple, highly visual way.”
Professional Services: A Cut Above the Rest
Marvin Poer engaged its customers throughout the development cycle to ensure the solution would meet their requirements. “Our customers were instrumental in shaping the system, including the type of user interface we would use, the information they wanted to pursue, and how they wanted to consume that information,” Rawlston notes.
One of the requirements established during these meetings was an interface that would permit people to get answers quickly and easily. The use of visual controls like stop lights, scorecards, color schemes, and gauges provides instant visual cues to key performance measures.
“When our customers have an area of concern with respect to their property taxes, they want to be able to drill into the data and obtain answers with just one click,” Rawlston says. “Thanks to WebFOCUS and the suggestions of Information Builders Professional Services, we have achieved that goal. Our customers are very enthusiastic about the new BI system.”
To create Client Connect, Poer examined offerings from IBM (Cognos), SAP (BusinessObjects), Oracle, and Information Builders. According to Rawlston, one of the things that set Information Builders apart during the selection process was its Solution Assessment offering, designed to help customers maximize their use of BI and integration technology. Over a two-day period, Information Builders examined Poer’s objectives, information requirements, and IT infrastructure to identify areas where better information would improve the business. They quickly grasped how the customer-facing BI solution would yield a direct return on Poer’s technology investments.
“The other vendors offered free trials that we could install and evaluate, but that can be a tedious task to get through on your own,” Rawlston explains. “Information Builders was unique. They took the time necessary to understand what we wanted to achieve. Then they put together a proof of concept, based on our business model, of how WebFOCUS would improve our business.”
Information Builders Professional Services provided specific, relevant examples of how the BI tools could enhance Marvin Poer’s business, along with a prototype of potential BI applications. “They did all this up front, before we signed a contract, while we were going through an evaluation with other vendors,” Rawlston continues. “That proof-of-concept demonstrated to everybody on our selection team that the technology was going to produce what we wanted.”
After working with the prototype and attending an Information Builders class, which provided further hands-on time with the tools, senior officers were convinced that Information Builders could deliver the solution they envisioned – on time and within budget.
“Selecting technology comes down to cost and how quickly you can turn your designs into real applications,” Rawlston says. “It also comes down to who you will be working with to accomplish that. And that’s where the people at Information Builders Professional Services showed their value.”
Marvin Poer did not have any internal WebFOCUS experience, and did not want to hire additional staff. “We wanted to utilize the expertise of Information Builders Professional Services and, at the same time, create a knowledge transfer from their people to ours, so we could carry on after the engagement was complete,” Rawlston says.
Expanding Horizons for Customers
Client Connect is 100 percent browser-based, which means users don’t need any client-side software, plug-ins, or special port access to use the comprehensive system. Best of all, because Information Builders doesn’t charge for self-service licenses, Marvin Poer can deliver advanced BI capabilities to an unlimited number of users at no additional charge simply by pointing them to the home page and supplying secure login information.
Information Builders Professional Services specializes in building custom-tailored Web decision-support systems. Professional Services works with everything from standalone architectures to multi-tier client/server environments.
Once inside the system, WebFOCUS helps users navigate through a series of dynamic dashboards, turning casual information consumers into capable analysts. Instead of accessing static, printable documents, users can click into an interactive BI environment to monitor key business indicators (KBIs). They can browse information from 120 different views and quickly drill down to detail data to track performance, gauge return on investment, or access original documents.
For example, the Appeals Dashboard reveals which properties have been appealed, whether those appeals are settled or pending, the previous year’s appeals, and the total tax savings generated. The Bill Status & Payments dashboard displays the status of each tax bill and payment. The Property History Dashboard lets users graphically view and drill down into details related to values, tax savings, and year-over-year changes filtered by value, filing category, and location. Clients with large property portfolios like being able to sort their tax documents by date, amount, category, and other variables. Clicking on any value in a chart or graph brings up a window with the full detail for each building or location. Users can view the information online or download it to their own computers for additional analysis formats such as Microsoft Excel or Adobe PDF.
“The application not only shows you what has happened, but shows you what will happen over a designated time period,” Rawlston says. “It uses exception reporting and color-coded icons and themes to alert customers to pertinent issues, without forcing them to go looking for the information.”
Thanks to WebFOCUS’ intuitive, browser-based interface, Marvin Poer’s customers require almost no training to use Client Connect. “We define the various KBIs so people know what and how we are measuring performance, but we don’t need to show customers how to use the interface itself,” he adds. “It is very intuitive.”
BI as a Competitive Differentiator
While implementing the new BI environment, Marvin Poer was able to reposition its business and refine its value proposition, seizing the high ground in a highly competitive industry. “Being able to access all of this information on demand is very valuable to our customers,” Rawlston says. “We were certainly listening to our customers before. But we were not taking advantage of BI applications in the way that we are today. We hadn’t crossed that threshold, and we realized that no one else in our industry had either. Client Connect has given us a decisive competitive advantage. It is a differentiator that is helping us win new business and solidify customer relationships.”
In the future, Rawlston expects to update the look and feel of the application using WebFOCUS Enable for Adobe® Flex® to continue to differentiate the company. WebFOCUS Enable combines the strengths of WebFOCUS and Adobe® Flex® Builder™ to create interactive dashboards or “flashboards” that grab users’ attention and guide them through a rich analytic process. “We know the new system is making a difference,” Rawlston summarizes. “WebFOCUS is the best technology investment we could have made. We would choose it again over any other solution. We like what we have created and our customers do, too.”