TS Eliot once said:
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
IT Managers are often saying:
Where is the information lost in the data?
In little more than three decades we have reached a stage where the smartphone in your pocket has more computing power than Apollo 11. The rise and availability of computing power, coupled with the minimal cost of mass data storage, has created some fantastic opportunities for business, science and society as a whole. This white paper looks at what effect this increase in data storage has on distribution businesses and investigates how to embrace, exploit and profit from it.
In the years leading up to the year 2000 just about any business with a computer network became paranoid about the Y2K time-bomb. As it turned out, the world continued to turn, airplanes stayed in the sky and the new millennium arrived with barely any downtime. What would or wouldn't have happened if we hadn't put so much effort into dealing with an unknown threat is not really of concern, but what the whole Y2K situation demonstrates is that those missing two "YY" digits in the now "DD/MM/YYYY" were missing for one very good reason - they used up valuable memory in computers. Data storage and computer memory was, for decades, very expensive. Now, it is not. In theory this is great news, but it has raised a new problem. We now accumulate data at a rate as fast as the exponential growth of storage devices on the market. We take data storage for granted, and we have become very lethargic in our approach.
To deal with all this additional data being held, the IT industry developed widely available tools to provide Business Intelligence (BI) or Performance Management. Traditionally, these tools have been very expensive to license and implement, becoming back up options for the blue-chip organisations. Several factors are changing here that mean smaller distribution companies can also benefit. Firstly, the cost is reducing as the likes of Microsoft and its business partners bring very sophisticated technology into the reach of the masses. Secondly, the distribution industry is simply becoming more sophisticated.
BI provides summarised views on historic, current and predicted business operations, and thus supports better decision making. For example, in a typical distribution company, a huge amount of data (from historical transactions) will exist for vehicle movements. This data can be summarised in a view that shows, perhaps by product type or territory, the utilisation or revenue generated from the product or area. Looking at a comparative view of this data over a period of time, perhaps a few years, the business decision makers will be able to see what type of vehicle, or which geographical area is the most profitable. By entering into the BI tool planned sourcing of new products, development of new sites or increase/decrease in customers in a particular area, a predictive view of performance can be created. This information can influence many decisions in a business such as type of products to distribute and the territories on which to focus the sales forces' efforts.
How Business Intelligence Fits into a Business
One of the most important aspects of Business Intelligence (BI) is that it can give a business fast access to information from its ERP system that is not readily available. This is because most ERP systems are transaction based, designed for fast processing, not necessarily for dealing with complex data queries. The insight that can be gained by using BI tools to bring more complex analysis and information to the surface, will help drive better performance throughout the business.
The process of effective BI begins with establishing and identifying Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) across the dimensions of a business. In order to get figures that can answer important questions, such as top 10 customers by volume, frequency or profit, there are hosts of numbers that need to be amalgamated from within the ERP system to generate and analyse this information in a meaningful way.
BI tools display KPI information in a graphical format, using charts and dashboards to help unearth the true meaning of the raw data. This is the real strength of BI, delivering simple and visually appealing amalgamations of complex data that convey instant meaning and enable accurate decision making processes.
KPIs can cover personal indicators as well as standard business areas. If one of a company's main objectives is to improve the productivity of specific staff members or groups, then it will need to think about the links between different KPIs and how they affect individuals.
For example, in trying to understand basic repeat business patterns, businesses will need to understand several questions about their data. BI tools will be needed to establish on average how often a customer orders and the average quantities and values. A dashboard goal is then set up showing where a business would ideally like to take that customer, setting targets and goals to help edge the customer towards a more profitable ordering pattern. Once the goals are set, they can be linked to other BI results, such as customer satisfaction and then drilled further down into the accuracy of order fulfillment, quantity of returns and timeliness of orders. Linking all this together can lead to a conclusion. For example, it could be that a business is not picking accurately enough in the warehouse and by improving this area, can increase customer satisfaction and potentially the frequency and profitably of its business.
Identifying areas for improvement in any of these areas, which are likely to be the responsibility of individual operators, allows the setup of personal KPIs that can drive the overall business to greater profitability.
With BI, a business can set these overall ideas about its measurement criteria. As time progresses, more BI is needed to feed these numbers. Identifying how accurately orders can be fulfilled allows rapid remedial action, depending on the issues. It gives visibility throughout the supply chain, to make better decisions and develop a better business.
BI must be viewed as a multi-layer project and ongoing process. To be truly effective, the solution will need to be constantly tweaked and refined. Seeing how improvements to the base requirements of operations affect all areas of the business and can be measured all the way through to tangible profitability - this is the power of BI. It can help a business buy more cheaply, organise its warehouse more efficiently and sell more products with more profitably to more people.
The Microsoft BI Message
Microsoft has tools available out of the box as part of SQL Server, which allow a company to Extract, Transform and Load data. This data can be extracted from a transaction based system (ie. Dynamics) and then use BI tools to link them together and Transform the different parts. Finally, the system can Load data by amalgamating information into a series of dimensions in the form of OLAP (Online Transaction Processing) cubes, which can be deployed through the SQL Server.
However, Microsoft understands the need for the visualisation of BI, particularly for finance and operational functions. And it is for this industry specific domain expertise that partners like Qurius are able to provide the solutions customers are looking for. Microsoft needs its partners to identify and develop the KPIs that are appropriate for individual markets and delivering them as meaningful information in the most appropriate graphical format. Microsoft provides an affordable, stable and powerful platform and partners like Qurius make it sing and dance for particular types of business and customer requirements.
Data itself has little or no value. In fact, it can often hinder a business. However, if data can be recycled into information, and furthermore into knowledge, it can be the biggest asset in any organisation.
Qurius provides technology answers: design, architecture, infrastructure, deployment and systems management of Microsoft-based business and IT solutions. Headquartered in Zaltbommel, the Netherlands, the company serves customers across Europe, including Belgium, Germany and Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the Czech Republic. In 2010, Qurius openly declared a target of 100 per cent sustainability by 2014. A bold objective, designed to drive the company to European leadership in the field of sustainable ICT. The company aims to be the number one choice for customers with the same ambition and the same sustainability goals. Qurius has been publicly quoted on Euronext Amsterdam since 1998. For more information, visit www.qurius.com
Qurius UK is based in the Manchester area, and is a specialist in delivering Microsoft Dynamics NAV, Microsoft Dynamics AX, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM based solutions. Qurius has over 15 years' experience in implementing Microsoft Dynamics ERP software, and as one of the few with integrated solutions using ERP in perfect cooperation with the CRM system within an optimal infrastructure, whether or not in a portal based on .NET and SharePoint technology. With approximately 350 experts, Qurius UK serves clients in the Care Industry, Industrial Services, Professional Services and Environment. In addition, Qurius offers distinctive Infrastructure and Hosting Solutions.