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December 1, 2015

Blue Cross of Idaho Builds BI Success on a Pyramid

Alex Woodie

Companies have many options today when it comes to business intelligence applications. When it came time for Blue Cross of Idaho to pick a platform, you may be surprised why it eschewed more popular names in favor of little known Pyramid Analytics.

Blue Cross of Idaho is one of 36 independent health insurance organizations that are part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). The not-for-profit company, which was founded in 1945, provides insurance coverage for more than 850,000 people in the state and across the country.

For years, Blue Cross of Idaho utilized a SQL Server-based BI product called Proclarity to deliver reports to big clients headquartered in the state. Proclarity provided Web-based analytic interfaces that allowed the company’s group members to access reports from an OLAP cube hosted on SQL Server Analysis Services.

But when Microsoft bought ProClarity several years back and discontinued support for the product, the insurance company was forced to look elsewhere.

Discovering Pyramid

The hunt for a new BI solution was led by Trish Redgate, who was Blue Cross of Idaho’s manager of reporting and client consulting, and who has since left the company. Redgate’s team evaluated many of the Windows-based options available on the market, including popular solutions from Qliktech (NASDAQ: QLIK), Tableau Software (NYSE: DATA) and IBM‘s (NYSE: IBM) Cognos tool.

Redgate’s team decided to try out a little-known product she’d read about in a white paper: the BI Office Suite from Pyramid AnalyticsPyramid_analytics. Founded in The Netherlands about 10 years go, Pyramid Analytics delivers a “Mash-Pit” interface that helps users create “mash-ups” from a variety of data sources. The company, which has its American offices in Redmond, Washington, has a close partnership with Microsoft (also located in Redmond) and deploys atop SQL Server Analysis Server. Pyramid, which recently completed a $30-million round of equity funding, also develops some of the technology that Microsoft uses in its Power BI Desktop product.

Blue Cross of Idaho ultimately decided to go with Pyramid about three years ago, making the company one of the first Pyramid customers in the United States. The decision hinged mainly on two factors: its Web-based interface and its security model.

“Having to go to each client site and install it simply was not practical for us to do when we have 200 to 300 users,” Redgate told Datanami. “It wasn’t feasible to have a global national deployment installing the product on their machines.”

The fact that all BI Office Suite screens are Web-based also makes it easy for users to share content. “Customers can have URL addressable content embedded in their applications, and they can be embedded in other applications as well,” said Carrie Nielsen, a senior solution engineer at Pyramid Analytics.


Pyramid’s BI Office Suite features a graphical user interface

Because Blue Cross of Idaho’s system would be accessing sensitive medical records, having a strong security model that was HIPAA compliant was a big priority. “To be able to have employer groups log in, recognize who they are, and decide if they can see protected healthcare data (PHI) or only see summaries–it was very easy to design that security model with Pyramid,” Redgate said.

Today Blue Cross of Idaho uses Pyramid’s BI Office Suite to process about 1,200 reports on a regular basis from a 680 GB data warehouse. The entire setup—including ETL processes to move and standardize the incoming claims data—is managed by four Blue Cross of Idaho staffers, and is used by about 50 internal Blue Cross of Idaho users, in addition to external users.

Visual Data Discovery

In addition to generating the reports, KPIs, and dashboards, Pyramid Analytics provides ad hoc reporting and data exploration capabilities that allow member organizations and Blue Cross of Idaho employees to dive into the data.

Redgate said she was happy with the ease at which data exploration takes place in Pyramid. “If you see something in the data that you want to investigate, you can dive in and look at all the hierarchies and answer the question why. Why is that out of control?  Why is that data point high?” she said. “It’s very easy to use and to be able to answer question on the fly instead of having to call somebody up. The users have all that at their fingertips. The user interface is really just phenomenal.”

The data discovery capabilities of Pyramid paid off recently when a blip in the data turned into an actionable event. “We had one employer group that had a huge increase in cost,” Redgate says. “I drilled into it and was able to see that it was due to one large claimant.”BCBS of Idaho

The visual nature of Pyramid makes spotting patterns in the healthcare data relatively easy for Blue Cross of Idaho. “I’m constantly data mining the data to look for things where we can help the employees stay healthy,” Redgate said. “If I see something ‘interesting’ or unusual, I’ll push it over to the medical team and say, what do you think you think? I’m not a clinician, but is there something we can do here to intervene?”

Blue Cross of Idaho staffers are looking forward to using Pyramid’s newly unleashed extension for R, as well as GIS mapping functions. This would be quite handy for enabling a national client to compare healthcare costs for groups located in different parts of the country.

Playing with the Big Boys


Pyramid’s user interface enables location-based analytics

Blue Cross of Idaho may be the biggest health insurance company in the state, but it’s a small player on the national stage. Nevertheless, Redgate said Pyramid Analytics helps the company swing above its weight.

“We have actually secured large employer groups because of our reporting platform,” Redgate said. “We constantly hear great things from large consulting firms, like Aon Hewitt [the consulting giant near Chicago], which says this is the best thing we’ve seen.”

“Overall we’ve been extremely pleased,” she continued. “We’re the best here in Idaho and can probably compete with bigger national healthcare systems, and we built it right here, in small little Idaho.”

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(feature image courtesy James R. Martin/

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