BI and EPM Keep Projects on Track and Profitable

Posted 2013-07-02
business intelligence and analytics

By John Monczewski, Edward J. Cody and Ajay Yelne

General Dynamics is an aerospace and defense company with deep expertise in business aviation; land and expeditionary combat vehicles and systems, armaments, and munitions; shipbuilding and marine systems; and mission-critical information systems and technology. With high-profile public and private sector customers, including the U.S. federal government, the Department of Defense and Blue Cross Blue Shield, General Dynamics is the fourth largest defense contractor in the world.

The company was founded in 1952 and since the mid-1990s has acquired and integrated more than 60 businesses, including manufacturing facilities and companies. During this time, revenue has grown from $4 billion to approximately $33 billion, and the company has nearly tripled its workforce to more than 95,000 employees.

To support the rapid growth and business change, General Dynamics’ leadership invested in developing a culture of analytics. This led to the creation of the Business Intelligence Collaborative, a business intelligence and EPM (enterprise performance management) Center of Excellence inside General Dynamics Information Technology.

Our unit acts as a hub to help the entire company uncover and implement best practices in BI and data warehousing. As General Dynamics greatly prizes innovation and agility, we are often tapped to find new ways to use technology and data to create efficiencies, enhance visibility and run the business better.  

For example, the leadership team tasked the Business Intelligence Collaborative to leverage BI and analytics to find new efficiencies across the company’s financial operations. In addition to integrating acquired businesses, the company reorganized into four different business units.

Also, sequestration (forced budget cuts throughout the government) is having an impact on General Dynamics’ public sector customers. With spending tight, the consulting environment is more competitive than ever, and it’s up to the Business Intelligence Collaborative team to uncover ways to stretch every dollar further.

This led to the expansion of BI and EPM software to increase analytic capabilities. The enterprise shift toward industry-leading analytics started with the implementation of planning and forecasting systems to replace legacy Excel models, reducing cost and cycle time while improving quality and detail. The solutions, developed using the Oracle Hyperion EPM software suite, provide a significantly improved platform tailored to the business processes and data of each business unit. 

This initiative has had far-reaching effects across our entire defense and aerospace business, helping the company increase profitability, manage costs, improve executive visibility and drive efficiencies. With cutting-edge technology to streamline financial reporting and increase insights into our resources, we’ve achieved powerful business results.

Increasing Profitability, Managing Costs

With large-scale projects across R&D, manufacturing and production under tight deadlines and project constraints, aligning resources with production cycles is critical. General Dynamics places a high value on rate analysis, a complex process that shows how we manage our costs and human capital.

For instance, when we’re running a big land systems project to build armored vehicles, we need to make sure we’ve built out our engineering team enough to get the technical components mapped out during one phase of the project, and then adjust accordingly—and profitably—to ensure we have the right manufacturing resources on board. To do this, we need to have a high-level view of the project performance, while also being able to dig into the resources, profitability and people involved.

Previously, all the project resources were locked in our siloed spreadsheets, making it difficult to view the status of projects, foresee any issues and reallocate resources in a timely fashion. Teams could not realistically make informed decisions on rates until the end of a month or quarter, when everyone had logged their time and updated their project components.

This is no longer the case. With our new financial management system, we have a simple way of viewing resources, with color-coded “traffic lighting.” If one part of the project turns up “red,” shifts can be made to change the cost structure, allowing us to make profitable changes swiftly.

We can also see different stages of the project by month, so if one cycle of our armored vehicle manufacturing is held up, we have insight into which people and facilities have capacity, and can move resources accordingly. By intelligently managing our overhead costs, we can be more competitive and invest more in our growth.

In addition, we now have the visibility to look back three months into a project, and we can leverage predictive analytics to forecast how the project will track so we can plan for the future. This level of insight and analysis helps us keep projects on track and profitable.

Improved Executive Visibility

While desktop-based solutions have been the staple for most of the analytics in our organization, we’ve experienced recent pushes for mobility at every level, especially from the executive team. With the dynamic nature of our business and projects, our workforce is often on the go, travelling to remote regions and project sites. In fact, our executives are just as likely to be on a plane or in the boardroom as they are to be at their desks.

As mobile BI solutions have become more readily available, the tablet has become a perfect candidate to enhance analysis capabilities and reduce the need for paper reports. The real value to the corporate office is the ability of senior leaders to interact with the data anytime, anywhere.

Our executives can now pull up important documents such as forecasts, charts and delivery schedules right on their tablets wherever they are. It’s all self-service and near-real-time—so they can make and model changes to dashboards during a planning meeting, for instance. This level of collaboration and insight hadn’t been possible when they were receiving paper printouts of outdated data.

Additionally, recent improvements in the release of Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation Suite provided the necessary framework for mobility at our company. With security a top priority, the use of HTML 5 to support browser-based rendering through Apple device browsers enabled integration with SSL/VPN vendors to bring secure mobility over the Web. The release of an unsigned Oracle BI Mobile Application, with a software development kit for mobile containerization and mobile device management vendors, provided the framework to run the Oracle Mobile BI application inside the organization.

While Oracle BI provides the platform and visual appeal to our end users, having an appropriate data strategy ensures the success of our mobility initiatives. Executive dashboards require extremely strong performance, and designing a caching and rapid query approach is essential when delivering to the executive community. Our strong data warehouse delivers solid application performance, so executives can harness the power of mobile BI.

Increased Efficiencies

General Dynamics runs a tight ship so that we can deliver the best value for our clients. Every efficiency we uncover helps us conduct business faster and more accurately, enabling us to drive costs out of our organization.

Our new BI and EPM infrastructure transformation has had a significant impact on the speed and agility of our operations. For example, we reduced reporting cycle time by at least 30 percent, with up to 60 percent in some cases.

The automated data-gathering methods, powered by Oracle Essbase and Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation Suite, allow analysts to spend less time gathering data and more time on analysis. And with a single, validated source of information, the data itself is cleaner and more consistent. The high-quality data builds trust in the system and also saves analysts’ time when they don’t have to triple-check results.

With this technology backbone, we’ve created repeatable processes and deeper integrations between our solutions. For instance, leveraging Essbase for reporting has become an advantage when working with business units that want to report using their planning and budgeting models. The new release of Oracle BI provides the desired flexibility to build dashboards against Essbase. This reduces the time to market and the development cost of our reporting efforts without any negative impact on performance.

Analytics can deliver a competitive advantage when it's scoped, launched and used correctly. With the recent developments in mobility and the ongoing integration with the Oracle BI and EPM suite, our commitment to an enterprise analytics strategy and our ability to deliver world-class analytics should continue to evolve well into the future.

John Monczewski, Edward J. Cody and Ajay Yelne are the management team for the Business Intelligence Collaborative, an award-winning enterprise BI/EPM Center of Excellence at General Dynamics.