Quixtar's Quick Fix

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When entrepreneurs want to have a Web-based business of their own, many of them--especially those selling health and beauty products--turn to Quixtar, a self-styled "business- opportunity company" launched in 1999. To help tend to its far-flung clientele, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based firm--the e-commerce sister company to the higher-profile Amway, and a subsidiary of Alticor--wanted easy-to-use business intelligence (BI) that would enable managers to receive executive summary reports; novice users to navigate and learn the application; power users to perform detailed ad-hoc analyses; and technology staff to oversee it all without adding any additional personnel. Quixtar already had BI, but wasn't making the most of it: Users needed to know too much in order to build basic reports. Even many experienced users were overwhelmed by the cumbersome legacy system's hundreds of parameters, and the limited capability to drill deeper into results. "They were confused what attributes and metrics to use for their analyses," says Mark Wetters, senior BI analyst for Quixtar. "So only a few [of our] dedicated business analysts could use it." To expand the user base, the new system had to cater to varying skill sets--from novice to veteran. "By combining the right data level with the right functionality, we could create positive user experiences with our BI application," he says. "We would also have more efficient users and successful ad-hoc users." Quixtar didn't have to look very far for a solution. For several years, the company had been using applications from MicroStrategy, a McLean, Va.--based BI vendor. By upgrading to MicroStrategy's Web Professional application and customizing some of its functionality, Quixtar was able to develop both a program encouraging use of the system and a training program enabling staffers to move from novice to advanced status. "We purchased [online analytical processing] and report services for all users. This was helpful in creating a safe 'sandbox' for novice users," Wetters says. "That way they could experiment with the system without doing any damage." There are now three training classes: data reporter, data explorer, and data analyst. The result? More people are using the system more often, producing reports for internal analysis. And Quixtar developed a plan to blend training with provisioning, streamlining access to the various tools: After a user completes a level of training by passing a test, she moves up a level in the BI tools she is permitted to use in actual practice. "[We] turned off security as needed for each custom level. So when users progressed in their skill set, we didn't need to worry about needing a different MicroStrategy license," Wetters says. "Too many 'bells and whistles' caused [our novice] users to think they couldn't learn it, so they'd give up before trying." Navigation overwhelmed users and was too time-consuming. To minimize complexity, Quixtar created a single folder structure, and to ensure that access was limited to users who had passed training and had authorization, Quixtar established subfolders so each user had a customized project view. "Even though a user may not know how to use [a particular data point], we still want them to use reports that contain them," Wetters explains. By simplifying, Quixtar has encouraged more users to work with the program, which means more people are developing reports that the company can find useful in developing business strategy. The Payoff By using Microstrategy Web Professional, Quixtar has seen: g a 70 percent rise in the number of executed reports; g a 23 percent increase in the number of Web-executed reports; and g a 71 percent jump in the number of ad-hoc reports.
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