University approach helps CIO push BI training

United Pipe & Supply CIO Mike Green was stunned when employees at the Portland, Ore.-based wholesale distributor weren't excited to use the new business intelligence (BI) tools he bought them. So he built a virtual BI university, started handing out diplomas -- and sent users to meet with CFOs so they could see how BI benefits the bottom line.

Mike Green
CIO
United Pipe & Supply

What are your biggest pain points?
We have a user adoption issue. As we deploy technology, people are responding at varying rates -- and much slower than I predicted.

For example, the bulk of our managers have become used to fixed reports and spreadsheets, but the notion of analyzing data was beyond their thinking.

I was shocked as both a technologist and a business person -- BI is sexy, but users don't get it. That's when I said, 'Holy mackerel! We have to do some training to get managers to use the tools.' How are you solving the problem?
We've created the United Pipe & Supply University and we're putting managers through a rigorous training course.

The purpose of the university is to make managers aware of the need for the various tools available to them. The university is conducted via Web-based training, and we're sending users to off-site training. They also get business training. What type of business training?
They might have an afternoon with the CFO [chief financial officer] where they learn the nuances of a P&L. The CFO might show the levels of controls on how to reduce fleet costs or freight costs. What does United Pipe & Supply University look like?
We have a training and development manager at the company. We put our users through a boot camp.

We also give them certification exams -- and it could take up to a year to get to a certain level of certification. For the analytical tools, it could take three to six months for full certification. Which BI tools are you using?
We have a few things. The majority of our database is Mincron -- it's a Houston-based company and they focus on hard, good distribution, and we run that as ERP [enterprise resource planning].

It's against that database that we're running these reports. We have a number of Cognos tools and I'm trying to make it easy to extract information for these databases.

We're also using SAS Activity-Based Management. Is this training mandatory?
We've identified high-potential people in the company, and those who have expressed interest in management. Training is mandatory if you want to advance in the company. We want to have the best managers in the industry.

We can justify the programmer's time. Right now our managers are going to programmers to get data analyzed. If managers do it themselves, it makes them better decision makers. They can answer the business questions themselves and it frees up our programmers' time.

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