When the IT department gives an intern free software to play with, it does not expect the result to be a new business intelligence (BI) dashboard across the company. So, European brake manufacturer Eurac was taken aback with the result from a trial of Logi Analytics software.
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“An intern in IT downloaded it and created a dashboard with real live data within the period of the demo,” says James Perrott, group IT manager.
“We thought if someone with no actual experience in business, but with decent programming skills, could create a dashboard which was far beyond anything we had been able to create in our enterprise resource planning (ERP), then we could go with it.”
With four factories in the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic, Eurac produces 100,000 tonnes of grey iron castings per year and as well as making brake discs. Three years ago, it opted to install a new ERP system based on the SyteLine software from Infor.
Two sites in the UK went live in April 2011, while Germany started a year later. But in the Czech Republic, the roll-out met with difficulties in accommodating local financial regulation, James Perrott says.
At this stage, the implementation was halted so that an upgrade could be installed to allow a localisation pack to be included at the Czech site.
The hiatus allowed Eurac’s IT team to assess BI reporting on the new ERP system. SyteLine includes Crystal Reports, which Eurac found difficult to adapt to the business’s needs.
“It is a bit cumbersome and it is difficult to modify existing reports. It took a highly technical person to be able to modify the report to how you wanted it,” Perrott says.
Although the company configured Crystal Reports, owned by SAP, so it could produce external-facing information, for invoicing and customer statements, the task was more difficult when preparing internal business reports.
Eurac needed a system that could access a variety of data sources as well as the ERP system, because managers were still storing their own data in Excel spreadsheets and Access databases. It also needed data describing pay and time-in-attendance from HR systems. Meanwhile, the company wanted to give managers access to business reports on the move, without having to log into a VPN [virtual private network] to get to the ERP client.
Following the intern’s demonstration of its capability, Eurac purchased Logi Analytics. The IT team gathered key performance indicators (KPIs) from business executives and set about building a dashboard.
Data from a variety of sources were drawn into intermediary SQL database, which helped cleanse the data for the BI tool to exploit. It mainly presents sales data, sliced by category, by customer or date range and compares this data to budget figures in a format that is easy on the eye, Perrott says.
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The tool was rolled out with the ERP upgrade in the UK and training for the two systems was combined.
Because Logi Analytics builds HTML pages, managers were able to access their data from home or while on the move. It also renders well in the browsers of other devices including iPhones, iPads and Android devices, according to Perrott.
“With the previous system, we had to be on a client pressing buttons. Now, all the data is now accessible through any medium, you don’t have to be in work to look at the data. When we presented it to users, it revolutionised how people think about the information they need to look at on a daily basis,” he says.
Because running reports on the old system was time consuming, managers would only load them on a weekly basis, Perrott says. Now they can get access to the latest figures as soon as they are available.
“We have changed the mind set, so that people are looking at things more often because they can. You log in to a website and look at reports on an hourly basis, if you like.
“It is making the business look at itself in a different way. People who were not aware of situations are now aware of them. You can be sure that people are talking about situations on an active basis, rather than being reactive at the end of month when the figures come out.”
At the moment, the system is being used in the UK sites and will be implemented across the other sites in due course.
The BI tool has also affected other areas of the business. Whereas previously budgeting was monthly, now accounts teams are looking to create more accurate figures for each shift to provide better comparisons with more detailed reporting capability, Perrott says.
In an era when businesses are being encouraged to act on data to make decisions, business reports need to get to the right people, at the right time, wherever they are. Eurac’s experience shows the right mix of tools can complement existing ERP investments to help meet these goals.