Although the business world has become increasingly adept at putting data to work, huge challenges remain. Most revolve around the fact that business intelligence (BI) and analytics are moving targets.
For Emerald Home Furnishings, a Tacoma, Wash., manufacturer and wholesaler of furniture, real-time data is integral to success. “The global sales network requires excellent tools and systems,” says IT Director Joshua Henkel, who explains that the furniture is mostly manufactured in China and Malaysia, and is sold in stores throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Europe, Russia and the Middle East.
To be sure, tracking sales data, inventories and shipments across 10 countries in five continents is extremely complex. In the past, obtaining accurate and up-to-date information was next to impossible. In many cases, sales and customer staff were forced to hit FTP sites, download CSV files and import them into Excel spreadsheets. In addition, executives lacked the visibility they needed to run the business strategically.
“We recognized that we had an outdated ERP system and needed to take a far more efficient and cost-effective approach to running the business,” Henkel points out. “We needed a system that would provide broader and deeper information on a real-time basis.”
To achieve that goal, Emerald Home Furnishings turned to SAP’s BusinessObjects Business Intelligence. Working with software solutions provider and integrator Mantis Technology Group, the company also installed SAP BusinessObjects Mobile to connect its global remote sales team.
“We wanted a system that would provide dashboards and scheduled reporting, and would allow customers to order direct and to track shipments and deliveries,” he explains.
The system routes container orders directly to the manufacturer responsible for producing the item. It also allows sales staff—many of whom spend a great deal of time on the road—to schedule and view reports that show orders and backorders, as well as invoices and credits on a live basis.
The salespeople “have a complete overview of everything that is happening within the company,” Henkel says. “They can check with a client and make sure an item is in stock or, if it is out of stock, it’s possible to provide a daily ETA about expected availability.”
What’s more, the sales staff can access the data and reports via iPads and other mobile devices. In some cases, they’re also able to run analytics and reports to customize data. Emerald’s business analysts also can view inventory and order flows to better understand how to manage the supply chain. “We’re able to slice and dice the data in ways that allow the business to be more proactive and strategic,” Henkel notes.
In the past, the marketing department often spent five or six hours manipulating a file so staff could use the data. Any change to the data meant completely rerunning the process.
Today, the process takes place within a couple of minutes. In addition, other types of reports are contributing to similar gains.
“On an aggregate level, the system is saving us about 40 to 60 hours per week,” he says. “We are able to see more and better information, and have access to it when we need it.”
The BI system is also integrated with the firm’s Active Directory, which has simplified authentication and boosted control over rights and privileges. “We are able to disable or delete someone within minutes,” Henkel says.
“The technology has made the business far more efficient, while introducing a very secure data environment.”