BI with a rinse button

|June 16, 2015 0
How PE Electronics laundered away old knots

Pratima H

INDIA: THERE is nothing too radical about the term BI in IT industry, at least not this year or last year. It has become a staple of any enterprise’s IT stack. Not many however, pause and question whether BI really serves its intended purpose if all that power and visibility is available only for some top echelons. What if the real use of power lies somewhere at the bottom or middle of the organizational staircase? What if people who actually need and can do wonders with new avatars of data visibility do not sit perched up at a branch, but rather form the roots and shoots of an enterprise’s tree?

For PE Electronics Ltd confronting this question happened at the right time. The conspicuous absence of a rinse-as-well-as-dry button in information washing cycle struck and discomfited Dhananjaya P, Head- IT. He must have stopped for a close and hard look at the irony. Information is available with current tools but does it really help if it is not tossed out in usable form and to the actual wearer? Are shirts going to wardrobes that are full of scarves? Are socks coming out mismatched? Are towels actually turning out in fresh, ready-to-use shape?

Information for the exact user, in the right format, and in a readily applicable condition – is that too much to ask? Dhananjaya did not think so when he attacked some long-running stains of information fabric at the organization a few months back.

BI is no more just BI

When we look at general BI scenario, Business intelligence and analytics did top the list of technology priorities for CIOs in 2015, and it was felt that CIOs in the region are significantly more enthusiastic in their mobile approaches than their global counterparts. Indications from Gartner studies also pointed that there are very few differences between the global and Southeast Asia priorities for 2015. It was noted that CIOs in the region were significantly more advanced in their view toward investments in digital technologies than the global average. Incidentally, CIOs were spotted as significantly more bullish on analytics than their global counterparts, and as many as 91 per cent opining on shifting from backward-looking reporting to forward looking analytics (the figure was 80 per cent globally).

When Forrester identified ten technology trends for the 2014 through 2016, it reminded that IT is losing its control over business intelligence platforms, tools, and applications often due to IT’s inability to operate at the increased pace of the business.

Its report highlighted that business process management, again a traditional domain of IT by-and-large, was increasingly becoming the domain of other functions. Time is running a new tide with a new class of users demanding more user-friendly, self-service features to automate ad hoc processes without expensive and scarce IT resources.

Mobility has increasingly become a strategic imperative of the entire business greater levels of process and data innovation should arise, again leading to various functional leaders to wrestle control away from IT.

What makes the question worth going in the basket?

PE Electronics Ltd is a 1000 crore business entity that brings together two premium brands Philips (range of television products) and Electrolux (range of Home Appliances) that complement each other as a single entity under a unique brand licensee agreement. Its portfolio spans across High definition LEDs, LCDs and Ultra Slim Color TV’s. The Electrolux product range consists of Refrigerators, Washing Machines, Microwave Ovens and Air- Conditioners.

It was set up in April 2010, it operates in 9 zones with 24 branch offices across the country and is head-quartered in Mumbai. This kind of spread and breadth gave it a unique situation to tackle when it came down to information dissemination. That part became a key challenge as a variety of software types were deployed across the organization for a versatile mix of purposes. One was SAP for transactions, another as home grown CRM for after sales service / customer service management, yet another one as a home grown application for Sales Force Management, and there was one more for Secondary Sales tracking etc.

What this essentially converted into was a decision-making nightmare as XI sheet based manual analysis started turning to be the rule of the day. Each individual had his own formats and even though the formats were standardized, there was something called adherence that started appearing as a big challenge.

A deterrent factor perhaps was the part that Xls based reports were easy to be modified and there used to be multiple versions of the same report across the organization.

Dhananjay recalls that with young minds with boundless ideas, and advent of new technologies there was always one question that was there to wrestle with “how are we doing it differently? – this thought process was the trigger to tap the hidden potential and using unique ways to address business issues.

“Conventional ways of handling sales personnel, viewing performance reports were actually considered out dated and routine in nature which always had a question mark on the reliability of such processes – an out-of-box yet useful and commercially-viable solution was the need of the hour which resulted in a in-house mobility tool as well as BI tool which has brought in a sea change in the way of things handled over here with respect to sales management which is now more scientific, authentic and unbiased.” He explains.

The problem also became all the more crucial to address as timeline for report preparation with all the activities like extract, cleanse, massage the data was often a full one-day affair for weekly report and three days for monthly reporting. Think of cases of month-end finance reports and the lead time often stretched to five days from the closure of FI posting periods.

Understandably, the organization was essentially looking for a tool /software for collating data from various sources and culminating to provide a holistic view of all data points. It also wanted to provide all the facilities of typical Business Intelligence / Analysis tool (OLAP – Online Analytical Processing) at the same time.

Hence popped the idea of doing something with the information repository and the way it was handled.

The washing begins, but first – the soap has to be found

Constraints and challenges are an integral part of any major cleansing exercise at an enterprise of this scale and legacy structure. They dotted the game-plan this time too. One of the major ones was the question of investment as the organization was not in a position to deploy tools sold by bigger companies like SAP / Oracle / IBM etc. So here appeared a challenge that any IT team would happily live without – to get the best tool at the least cost.

But it had to be done. The team asked itself – Do we have the right resource at right place? There were also lots of loopholes in that-current system and ways of working that had to be stitched. Incorrect master data at SAP end also caused a major embarrassment for business team which never thought about the seriousness of incorrect master data in an OLTP (Online Transaction Processing) becoming a show-stopper for BI project. Though this was a deterrent, as Dhananjay reflects, it taught a great lesson for the business team who have now become wiser and critically examine the master data requirements of a transactional system.

One more area took the shape of a potential roadblock – Exceptions in business processes. Though largely norms were followed some smaller exceptions here and there persisted. “That was an eye opener which made the management to take note of it and ensure that proper procedures were followed instead of using a short-cut method. One classic instance is where certain marketing expenses were booked under a common cost centre instead of a dedicated cost centre.” He tells.

While these challenges were being tackled, there was also the question of Mobility Software and connectivity issues across the country. “We rely on 2G data connectivity for transmitting data from field to central server – the initial software that was built was only online. But this issue of intermittent or no connectivity paved way to rebuild the software which is now smarter; also where if connectivity available data gets transferred on line else data gets saved locally and transmitted later.”

What happened when you switch the washing on

The team opted for 1Key HPC – a BI tool from MAIA Intelligence and deployed it on Microsoft SQL-2012 64 BIT Database hosted on Windows platform. The solution was hosted on cloud (Ctrl-s services used here) thus no CAPEX on hardware was involved. Fortinet Firewall based VPN setup was laid down to establish safe connectivity to SAP server.

Soon, the odour of a new information started flitting around. At the bottom levels of organization structure, a more focused sales force with less manpower in overcrowded areas surfaced. The company also retrieved the license and implementation cost within three months and along the way reduced its MIS team involved, brought in more data scientists as process owners for all analytical processes in the organization, and permeated a common language of reports and analytics for the entire sales force.

Weekly review of all branches and Zones were now being conducted in this new analytical platform and qualitative arguments instead of mere numbers started becoming the new norm. PSI and product placement plan had been re-laid with lot of emphasis on demographical considerations rather than limping on intuition of each branch head or zonal head.

Among other gains that the team reaped with this deployment, there was the part of rationalized spends on schemes as every stake holder started getting a daily update on the scheme spent and commitments in the market. Warehouse spaces were reduced resulting in huge savings. Furthermore, modern retail and e-commerce partners appeared as focus area and the organization carved out a special team to focus on this channel. “Thanks to the analytics which gave a worthy insight on this new channel, their contribution and better profit margins these channels produced in last two years.”

When the timeline for report preparation and dissemination is drastically reduced from days to two hours, or sales-discount analysis becomes an online feature thus enabling the product managers to manage the discount structure in more scientific way or when primary and Secondary sales enters the awareness radar of every branch head with a less-hunch-based and more scientific (SKU mix-savvy) PSI to top; it’s not hard to imagine why Dhananjay is a happy man.

“Defective generation was never measured with accurate data, XLs based analysis was done once in a quarter, but all that is now automated to a daily basis. Branch expenses were only monitored once the month was over, now every branch accountant and Branch head is aware of his branch expenses on day to day – budget v/s actual cycle. It also helped us reinvent areas like market outstanding calculations and collection modes. Mode of collecting money from dealers was never analyzed earlier –today RTGS mode of collection is the key focus and organization has launched special drive to achieve maximum-possible collection through this mode this year.” He beams.

Pushing out wrinkles

As happy and content as he may be, Dhananjay takes a candid cognizance of the exercise and shares some lessons for his peers too.

“Selling the BI to internal users was the biggest challenge. But our project team mitigated this challenge by involving core user group during the project phase and in turn these core user groups started acting like evangelist for the initiative. This made the task easier resulting in immediate acceptance and participation. In terms of user acceptance – this mobile software initiative was seen as an additional task and biggest hurdle in any salesman’s day to day operations. So the organization decided to incentivize every user by an x amount which helped the business team to make the transition smooth and today the new tool has become part of life and no more incentives are being disbursed. Instead now people don’t get reimbursed for travel if the details are not available in the reporting tool.”

The laundry-list, so to say is hardly over.

His team is already buzzing with plans for the next stage. “Mobility and Analytics are the future of any organization – PE wants to be an early adopter of these two technologies and ensure that the organization progresses to the next level of “Predictive Analysis”. Being a manpower-dependent organization our people are our bigger ‘strength’ but at the same time the ‘threat’ of having a complacent, ill-trained and less informed staff is not sidelined. There lies a huge ‘opportunity’ of putting new-age technology to arm the manpower with required training and monitoring solution, and with this we can be sure of eliminating the threat of becoming obsolete or redundant in this highly competitive wafer-thin margin environment.

Yet, significant investment in these technologies should no more be a ‘weakness’ for those who dare to care.” He dissects his organization’s SWOT threads well. Dhananjay is sure that analytics will be the future which helps organization to stay relevant and keep the value chain intact.

“PE takes the cue from this and the near future goal is to enhance the scalability of BI to reach every data store within the prism of the organization and every stake holder and present them the best decision support system – both offline and online. BI at PE will be the sort of Holy Grail with multi-dimensional data converged into one to give a holistic view of each individual’s performance on an online basis.”

It’s as much about switching the right machine modes, as it is about avoiding the wrong mix of colors and excess proportion of cleansing agents.

As utopian as it may sound, that’s exactly how a good, neat and clean-smelling BI should actually be.

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