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Moving Away from Conventional Data Management: See How One Company Successfully Navigated Its SAP BusinessObjects Implementation

by Brad Ferguson

October 2, 2009

Every business needs clear insight into who its customers are and what they are buying. See how moving to a new business intelligence environment and implementing SAP BusinessObjects solutions helped one company better manage and analyze its customer data to make smarter business decisions and demonstrate positive ROI in both sales and operations.

In today’s competitive environment, data from across an organization must be consolidated, processed, and presented with accuracy and clarity so managers can make the right decisions, quickly.

With the amount of data greater than ever before and executive management demanding more real-time analytics, conventional data management is no longer sufficient. SAP BusinessObjects solutions may offer the right tools to meet these demands. By integrating data from across a global enterprise, SAP BusinessObjects solutions allow management to identify trends, adjust operating strategies, and make better business decisions.

In the fall of 2006, the CEO of a top luxury resort hotel chain with numerous resort locations turned to his vice presidents during their weekly management meeting and asked for further analysis from the mountains of data they had accumulated in each department. With the economy starting to slip and competition increasing, he knew they had to do more to attract and retain customers. At the same time, the company needed to find a way to cut expenses, without compromising the guests’ luxurious experience.

“Who are our customers?” the CEO asked his team. “What are their buying habits? How many vacations do they take in a year? Do they travel with kids or grandparents? Where are they spending their money on vacation? How can we best market to these people? Who are our best sales agents? And where can we cut costs?”

The vice presidents scrambled for answers in their usual way. Direct reports sent their data to managers and from there, the information trickled up to their superiors in the form of emails, voice messages, IT-generated data dumps, and extracts for departmental data-marts of business information spread across the organization and maintained through applications such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, and yes, even hand-written notes. The process wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t quick, and it certainly wasn’t accurate. While information was bountiful (thanks to the data warehouse and operational data stores the company had implemented a few years earlier), it was nearly impossible to analyze the information quickly.

In its search for a better way to analyze and manage this data and to make improved business decisions, the company reviewed a number of different business intelligence (BI) solutions — and chose to invest in the full SAP BusinessObjects portfolio of solutions to serve its enterprise reporting needs. To date, the company has already seen results that demonstrate impressive ROI in both sales and operations.

Moving to a New BI Environment

Prior to implementing SAP BusinessObjects solutions, the company found the task of reporting and distributing aggregated data extremely taxing on both resources and time. There was an overwhelming amount of information to digest and only limited options for exporting to Microsoft Excel for additional analysis. It often took more than two days to create, format, and distribute nearly 83 reports to sales managers. For this reason, it was difficult to accurately measure and address any sales cycle activity and almost impossible to make necessary adjustments that would have an impact on daily, weekly, or even monthly revenues.

Furthermore, senior management realized that it could not run the business on just canned or scheduled reports. With competition at its heels and erratic fluctuations in the economy, on-demand, real-time reports were critical to the company’s success. To help all departments and levels keep their eyes on the ball (increasing sales and cutting costs), reports had to be accessible to virtually everyone in the organization. This would be impossible to implement without an automated system in place.

In 2005, the company made a significant investment to build a robust data warehouse and operational data stores that provided more data than it ever had before. However, without a good BI tool on the front end, the data was not harnessed or consolidated to facilitate easy, accurate trend and forecasting analysis. The company turned to its IT department to research a BI platform that would reduce development cycles, maintain security and regulatory compliances, and monitor and provide, in real time, the necessary key performance indicators (KPIs) to quantify the organization’s activities in terms of costs, revenues, customers, employees, partners, and shareholders.

The company selected the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio because of the solutions’ ability to facilitate real-time slicing and dicing of data with quick, easy analysis and distribution. SAP BusinessObjects solutions also allow for timely integration of multiple sites and improved workflow processes without the need for additional application development and support resources. At the same time, the data warehouse and other disparate data sources could be tied seamlessly into the BI process. SAP BusinessObjects solutions also offer an internal software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that eliminates many hardware and software constraints without sacrificing security. Most BI efforts of old required the IT team to consolidate the data into a data warehouse through extract, transform, and load (ETL) solutions. New technology provided with the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio allows clients to integrate the data into one reporting system without needing to consolidate data into a data warehouse. Finally, the software’s ability to integrate new and change control orders without business disruption was an important feature for the executive team.

Key Components of This SAP BusinessObjects Implementation

  • SAP BusinessObjects BI solutions: Deliver tools with a broad range of functionality (such as Xcelsius, Crystal Reports, SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence, and SAP BusinessObjects Desktop Intelligence).

  • SAP BusinessObjects scheduling functionality: Ensures timely distribution of reports, keeping business units abreast of daily operations information.

  • SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: Simplifies training for super users to become productive via self-service and requires no deployment of controls to the end user. Delivery is 100% executed through the Web.

  • SAP BusinessObjects Dashboard Builder: Provides constant, real-time dashboards into booked revenue between the current year and two years out.

  • BI stack: Used for all reporting and business intelligence (internally and with partners).

How SAP BusinessObjects Solutions Boosted Sales

Selling vacation packages requires the same approach as any other sale: you have to know what your customers want, where they are, who they are, and why they buy what they buy. Understanding trends in the industry is also critical to offering the right product at the right time. With SAP BusinessObjects solutions, analysts and managers can sort through massive amounts of data to produce detailed ad hoc reporting. This enables senior management to quickly identify negative or positive patterns in sales performance and react accordingly.

The SAP BusinessObjects portfolio also includes functionality that helps sales representatives close deals. And, the functionality allows business analysts to directly develop product reports that permit the sales department to identify which resorts are struggling to book guests, alerting management of the risk that some properties may not fill up in time. This report links to a call to action to certain agencies so they can run a promotion and quickly fill the vacancies. With this automated approach, the resort can operate at full capacity 100% of the time.

Another report helps the company identify which agencies are particularly effective and therefore should receive special promotions for their customers.

Prior to implementing SAP BusinessObjects solutions, the company’s analysts executed one canned report and one or two ad hoc analyses per day. Since implementing SAP BusinessObjects solutions, analysts have built and automated a significant number of canned reports (about 30 per week). At the same time, executing ad hoc reports became a non-issue. The company reduced the number of reports into a consolidated standard report that is accessible by all departments, elevating transparency in the organization and promoting accountability. Customer requirements for daily ad hoc reports reduced dramatically due to the creation of a consolidated drillable report for multiple user groups.

Because SAP BusinessObjects solutions integrate with the company’s customer relationship management software, its sales teams can monitor and report on important metrics such as goals versus actuals, as well as track certain promotional incentives, making quick adjustments if necessary.

The company’s implementation team was amazed at the ease of getting the SAP BusinessObjects solutions up and running as well as the ease and speed at which the software runs reports. Once the team created its standard reports, analysts were immediately able to write complex formulas, “if” statements, and sensitivity analysis quickly and effectively for additional reporting benefits.

Finally, the increased transparency of sales information has also increased accountability. SAP BusinessObjects software reports across all business units and reveals their performance in real time. This exposure has resulted in a culture in which employees are increasingly focused on efforts to improve the bottom line.

How SAP BusinessObjects Solutions Improved Operations

Like many organizations, resorts run their business on many different enterprise applications that function and report information in different ways. Disparate data sources often result in gaps in reporting and analysis, but the company has benefited from SAP BusinessObjects solutions to interact with over 90% of application providers. The company has been able to leverage this flexibility to create a single-source platform for more than 200 reports, as well as take advantage of scheduled distribution for an average 15,000 report instances per quarter.

Without the need for manual data integration processes, the company could benefit from the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio’s reporting capabilities almost immediately. It was able to increase its reporting capabilities by 25% and reduce expenses by eliminating the need for four contract analysts billing an average of $70 per hour.

To implement SAP BusinessObjects solutions, the implementation team worked with the six functional areas within the reservations department to ensure that reports and shared data mirrored the way the functional areas interacted with each other within the organization. By leveraging SAP Business-Objects solutions, the company was able to secure and create shortcuts to access core reports across its architecture. The shortcuts provide a single point entry for multiple user groups accessing the report and dramatically reduces the TCO for IT to modify the report. The shortcut always references the latest copy so the time required to redistribute is minimal.

Most important, SAP BusinessObjects solutions provide the business with a single source of truth. SAP BusinessObjects software assures that business-critical intelligence is transparent, available, and distributed to the various departments under corporate-defined KPIs. With the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio’s zero footprint on the client side and Web-based availability, the company was able to make enterprise information available in its various branches located around the world without having to increase hardware, software, or staff for rollout or support. Finally, the platform has become the driving force for all business units to perform gap analysis in revenue and to identify areas for process or product improvement.

SAP BusinessObjects solutions allow the company to make change controls available immediately to the business units the next time they access information via SAP BusinessObjects solutions — all from a single point of system administration. This reporting platform also provides access to the reservation system’s operational data, which gives the company actionable business intelligence — such as when a resort is booking too slowly and needs a quick promotion to fill the rooms. To maximize the effectiveness of SAP BusinessObjects solutions, the company implemented SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence and SAP BusinessObjects Watchlist Security at both the object and data/row level to leverage the complete BI stack by department. Super users were assigned the ability to create, modify, schedule, and distribute their business information.

In addition, the transparency and ability to manage by exception significantly reduced the “garbage in, garbage out” problem in the core business reservation system. Reports that once took two days to create, format, and distribute are now automated and scheduled to arrive as needed. SAP BusinessObjects solutions also keep a history of successful instances so users can view previous reports for comparisons and one-click rerun reporting based on saved parameters.

SAP BusinessObjects Implementation: Main Points to Consider

When undertaking an SAP BusinessObjects project, be sure to plan for these tasks:

Integrate data from multiple systems into a single data warehouse

Migrate from non-standard reporting (spread marts and/or departmental data copies)

Define a common list of business terminology and measurements

Standardize information availability so reports are produced against the same data timestamp

Achieving Multiple Benefits

Overall, the company enjoys greater collaboration and increased response to business goals. These goals are easier to achieve because it has a clearer picture of guest profiles and preferences and can match this data to incentive programs. The SAP BusinessObjects portfolio has also increased teamwork by improving access to shared KPIs across business units. Finally, through the auto-alerts early warnings to sales trends provide the necessary business intelligence to make critical business decisions. Brad Ferguson is the director of business information services at Meridian Partners. Previously the director of business information services at Office Depot, Ferguson has over 10 years of experience implementing solutions leveraging industry-specific data models to construct “Single Source of the Truth” data warehouses for self- service reporting, and dashboard graphs and charts.

Brad Ferguson is the director of business information services at Meridian Partners. Previously the director of business information services at Office Depot, Ferguson has over 10 years of experience implementing solutions leveraging industry-specific data models to construct “Single Source of the Truth” data warehouses for self-service reporting, and dashboard graphs and charts.

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