BFI data consolidation: A boon to marketing, sales

COMPANY: Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. (BFI)
PURPOSE: To consolidate geographically dispersed data into a data warehouse, enabling BFI to provide national customers with account information and to enable its marketing and sales organization to gather market analysis data.

APPLICATION: Strategic Information Query System (SIQS) -- Four years ago, information about the customer base of Browning-Ferris Industries, Inc. (BFI), Houston, was dispersed in 13 databases scattered throughout the country. At the same time, the customer information was maintained locally by personnel in 500 autonomously run branch offices.

At that time BFI, a waste processing giant that collects, processes for recycling, transports and disposes of a wide range of commercial, industrial, medical and residential solid wastes. The company also operates several subsidiaries and affiliates across North America.

By early 1994, the dispersed data was presenting problems to BFI. For example, BFI's sales and marketing organization was inundated with requests from its customer base for information about waste streams and volumes. The company also faced roadblocks pursuing additional business from both new and existing customers, which required consolidated information to perform market analysis. Obtaining consolidated information across such a large number of databases, all maintained at the local level, was hurting those efforts.

To resolve the problem, BFI in 1994 built a team made up of representatives from its marketing, sales and information systems (I/S) organizations that was charged with building a comprehensive data warehouse solution.


The Strategic Information Query System (SIQS) project at Browning-Ferris Industries, Inc. (BFI) is awarded the honor in this category for emphasizing the design and development processes and tools used in enterprise data warehousing. BFI successfully overcame significant challenges during the development of the data warehouse. The large volume of data that needed to be cleaned, transformed and loaded into the data warehouse presented a big challenge. BFI addressed this through the use of tools such as Vality Technology's data cleaning and matching product. The return-on-investment has been tremendous for BFI through the retention of existing national customers and increased revenues through targeted marketing efforts. BFI is now using the data warehouse as a strategic tool for re-defining the business model.
With approval of senior management and a budget of $2.5 million in place, the Strategic Information Query System (SIQS) project was initiated in January 1995. The first challenge stemmed from the fact that programming support for legacy systems and development had been outsourced for many years.

IBM's consulting unit and Atlanta-based MCI Systemhouse were were contracted to jointly work on the integration project. Though MCI Systemhouse had earlier contracted with BFI to provide some programming services, BFI officials note that neither company had significant knowledge of BFI's business. Considerable business training was required for both IBM and MCI Systemhouse consultants.

The next major challenge was the cleaning, standardizing and loading the tremendous amount of data into the new data warehouse. More than a million customers and several hundred separate customer master files in the 13 databases had to be located and grouped. BFI utilized the data cleansing and matching expertise of Vality Technologies for that project.

The Vality technology was then combined with Dun & Bradstreet's Duns Number convention for grouping customers and prospects, which allowed BFI to analyze existing national customers.

After an investigation of data warehousing tools, BFI chose the offerings of Prism Technologies Inc., Sunnyvale. Calif. Once the project was started, developers determined the Prism toolset could not handle the requirements. "This probably wasn't Prism's fault," noted Mike Perroni, BFI vice president of systems development and support. "I know the product works well with other databases, but we were trying to work it with a very convoluted IDMS database."

To handle the complex issues of IDMS, the team used custom-developed Cobol programs to perform data extracts on the MVS platform. C programs were implemented for Oracle data loads on the AIX platform. Mapping of data from the source legacy systems into the data warehouse system was performed with LBMS' Systems Engineer tool and Excel spreadsheets.

The marketing and sales organization required a tool that would allow it to easily access the data warehouse. A number of tools were reviewed by a cross-functional project team comprised of BFI's marketing, sales and I/S organizations along with consultants from MCI Systemhouse. The team selected Impromptu from Cognos Corp., Burlington, Mass.

"The Impromptu product has been very good for power users and semi-power users," said Perroni. To address the reporting needs of management, BFI went on to add the PowerPlay multidimensional analysis and reporting tool from Cognos. "PowerPlay is very powerful," said Perroni. "We're very happy with all of the Cognos tools, which are considered an important piece of our strategic direction."

Axiant and PowerHouse from Cognos were added as the data warehouse matured, to assist in data extractions for building PowerPlay cubes and data marts. After implementation of the data warehouse, a second project was initiated to improve performance of the extraction, data loads and queries. The BFI marketing and sales organization also wanted to address concerns about data accuracy and integrity.

"The Vality Integrity tool performed extremely well as far as cleaning up our data," said Perroni. "The problem we ran into was that you can only correct so much and then you have to go in and fix some things for yourself."

One problem the BFI team ran into was in addition to its regular business, the company has a lot of "temporary" business. This type of business may be recorded with a company name, but no address because the pickup may be at the corner of a street at a construction site. This is something that the company may want to look at reconfiguring, noted Perroni.

While the initial project followed IBM's development methodology and was managed by an IBM project management team, the follow-on used the MCI Systemhouse methodology. While Perroni noted that IBM worked well with the initial project, it made sense to let a data warehouse team from MCI Systemhouse handle the follow-on work.

Completed in May 1996, the project took more than 162 person-months to complete. The project is considered a success by all involved, and InfoMART, the newly renamed data warehouse, is a critical piece of the corporate strategy.

"Having our hands wrapped around our customer base has been a real benefit for the company," said Perroni. "All of this information is available to us at the corporate level now in a single database, which is a real competitive advantage in our business."

From the business perspective, the gains have been impressive. "We've calculated an 18.6% internal rate of return, based on a three-year payback," said Perroni. "MIS savings are $200,000 a year, productivity savings are $100,000 a year, and we have added $2.8 million in incremental revenue."

The data warehouse has provided the BFI marketing and sales organization with the ability to do market segment reporting and analysis. Further extensions to the warehouse are ongoing, including support for the company's new SAP implementation. A Web-server version of PowerPlay has been purchased by BFI to provide access to the multidimensional cubes by the company's 500 operating locations.

- Deborah Melewski


MIKE PERRONI, divisional VP, Systems Development and Support

STEVE BALDWIN, data resource administrator

ANGELA FLORES, IT consultant

CHARLIE KAYLOR, director of marketing

JAN STOVALL, director of marketing information systems

Several external consultants from Cognos, Vality, IBM, and MCI Systemhouse

An estimated $2.8 million in incremental revenue through the retention of existing national customers and an increased customer base due to expanded marketing efforts.

Integrity from Vality

Impromptu, PowerPlay, Axiant, and PowerHouse, from Cognos Corp.

LBMS Systems Engineer



IBM MVS mainframe

IBM RS/6000 AIX running Oracle