In-Depth

MCI keeps score with S-based analysis

Among organizations that have exploited technology to competitive advantage, none has become more prominent than telecommunications giant MCI. While Federal Express' use of the Web for package tracking is perhaps cited more often as a keystone appli-cation, it is the MCI "Friends and Family" program that, for many, is the best example of using customer and operational data to gain market share.

Thus it is especially interesting to talk with MCI technology hands who have recently completed a program to harvest data from within the company's records of field operation performance.

Glenn Freeman, senior staff, MCI, Southeastern Region Network Operations, Cary, N.C., and James Miller, senior staff, Southwestern Region Network Operations, Dallas, used StatServer and S-Plus analytical software to implement a system that helps the firm analyze its own inner workings. StatServer and S-Plus are produced by MathSoft Inc., Cambridge, Mass.

"We're building a reporting system for KPIs [key performance indicators] for national field operations," said Miller.

"It is important to look at things you do internally," added Freeman. "We look at a dozen or so [elements] that produce a balanced scorecard. These give us a gauge as to how we are performing as a company."

The data for estimating KPIs resides in databases. Via that system built by Freeman, Miller and others, end users can use Web browsers to select criteria for study. Prior to implementation of the MathSoft system, indicated Miller and Freeman, canned queries were possible but no true trending data was forthcoming.

At the heart of S-Plus is S, an object-oriented data modeling language developed at Lucent Technologies for data visualization. Like others in the data mining arena, MathSoft has worked quickly to Web-enable its offering.

While a Web server is used to mete out the information, a middle-tier server works to churn the desired data. "We added StatServer middleware between the Web server and the database," said Freeman.

Compared to other alternatives, he said, it was "more user-friendly." By user, he means developer. "It was more user- friendly on the developer side," he said.

S underlies the system, but users are shielded from its workings. The front end to this system was built in Visual Basic, while the analytical server is built in S.

Use of S-Plus saves a lot of development time, said Miller. "It makes it a lot easier to produce this application. Before, we were writing our own programs to do our reports." MCI expects to save several hundred thousand dollars per year when it produces an in-house performance scorecard. The scorecard, in turn, is considered a key business process capable of keeping the firm on the leading competitive edge. Taken together, said a colleague of Miller and Freeman, this is the essence of "intelligent networking."

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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