Specialisation (and crisis) help Cortell to grow

Specialisation (and crisis) help Cortell to grow

The market for business intelligence services is set to expand with CIOs increasingly making analytics a priority over the next few years.

According to CIO magazine's annual MIS 100 report, more than half of large organisations are embarking on business intelligence or corporate performance management projects this year, up from just over 40 percent in 2011.

This service is also progressively finding traction, however, among smaller enterprise customers and for Cortell, an 18 year old business intelligence specialist with offices in Auckland and Wellington, new products are opening doors that were closed a few years ago.

"We used to only be in with larger companies, because BI is traditionally expensive," says Cortell director Belinda Johnson. Less expensive software means Cortell is "seeing those mid-market clients and we're starting to engage in those conversations."

Specialisation has been good for the organisation and, with software relatively more affordable and economic reality creating an urgency to derive value from existing data sources, Cortell has seen double-digit growth in revenue over the last three years, and an increased staffing level from 24 to 32.

Johnson says the growth has been stronger than anticipated.

"The reason we've been successful is partly because of the recession," Johnson says. "What's happened with the recession is that people have said business is changing all the time so it's not enough to do a budget once a year, or to use budgets that are static."

Cortell was established by Johnson's father, Ernest Glad, as an activity based costing consultation, growing from Glad's academic career and expertise. Cortell made a left turn into business intelligence when Glad went into business with Applix, which sold an early BI system known as TM1. That was the progenitor to what later became the IBM Cognos products, following a succession of acquisitions.

Johnson, a chartered accountant, says Cortell offers services to clients regardless of the database platform. She states that most CIOs and CFOs have put business intelligence in the top five on their 'to-do list', and while many customers are in finance and banking, she sees opportunity to spread into other sectors.

"We're always surprised at how poorly it has been taken [up] in the health sector," says Johnson. "That's the one sector that should have the base systems, but they don't. They have disparate systems that don't talk to each other."

She says that BI solutions are being rolled out in the US that take data entered through iPads, and matches that to an existing database to aid health professionals in triaging emergency room patients.

Cortell has invested in IBM business intelligence software, and the reseller won finalist and top prize awards from the vendor for projects with Wendy's, Lumley Insurance and Delegat's Wine Estates.

Johnson says award recognition has helped win over new prospects, but it has also boosted staff morale and encouraged them to acknowledge their own past wins when they are otherwise too busy to do so.

In the future, Johnson expects to use the IBM Cognos Express to bring BI services to those smaller clients. "To us it's much more than just having a set of reports," she says. "For example, insurance clients use predictive analytics to see which of their clients will [potentially] default on payments or defraud you. With marketing spends, which clients should you push a product to? Don't send a million dollar campaign to everyone, because not everyone will take up your offer, but let's tell you the ones that will.

"That's why we've been so successful in the last three years and seeing double digit growth numbers," Johnson says. "And for that reason the clients are saying the biz has changed and they're asking what they can do better and how can they make better decisions."

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