When the founder of VELUX — a business that specializes in manufacturing and installing roof windows — first called the company’s employees "daylight engineers," he was describing how the business delivers its products and services to its residential and commercial customers. Today, however, the phrase could also refer to the company’s business intelligence (BI) team, which in 2011 spearheaded an overhaul of its existing BI platform to provide more transparency into reporting, analysis, and planning across the organization.
VELUX’s BI journey began in 2000, when it started using the out-of-the-box analytics tool SAP Business Explorer (SAP BEx) to report on SAP R/3 data from SAP Business Warehouse. Over time, however, the Microsoft Excel-based reporting tool simply wasn’t providing the growing global company with the centralized reporting structure it needed for an enterprise-wide financial picture. VELUX was encountering several problems. For starters, potential users were put off by the extensive training needed to master the system, and its use plateaued. Additionally, the system didn’t lend itself to a single version of the truth; with no track-and-trace functionality in the silo-based system, it was difficult to tell whether reports were analyzing the same data, especially since there were no standardized naming conventions. A "net sales" report generated in Denmark, for example, might be based on different information than a "net sales" report originating in Germany.
Perhaps even more troubling, and a key driver in VELUX’s eventual move to implement the entire SAP BusinessObjects suite, was that subsidiaries were beginning to invest in their own BI solutions, which, if allowed to continue, would fragment the organizational BI picture even more.
"This was a disturbing trend, as we really wanted a single BI setup throughout the organization," says Anders Reinhardt, VELUX Head of Business Intelligence.
A Global BI Mission
A consistent, company-wide BI view was not a far-fetched vision. VELUX had long before consolidated its management reporting to satisfy its performance measurement KPIs, so creating a single organizational BI setup was just a matter of extending this consolidated model to the company’s day-to-day reporting processes. "We were confident that global ownership of a BI offering made the most sense from cost and competency angles," says Reinhardt.
"The magnitude of the project didn’t affect the business. Most people believed the system was down for normal maintenance and didn’t realize we were revolutionalizing the entire setup."
— Anders Reinhardt, Head of Business Intelligence, VELUX
Rather than shoehorn disparate reporting needs into a one-size-fits-all solution, however, Reinhardt and his team kicked off a fact-finding mission to determine how users across various business units perceived the current solution, and to discover their wants and needs for a more robust BI product. The timing coincided with an SAP ERP and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) rollout to some small subsidiaries, and the BI team knew from experience that turning those employees into SAP BEx users would be challenging.
"The only way we could understand the broad needs of the entire company was to go out and speak with people," explains Reinhardt. "Instead of focusing on a tool or a product, we focused on the pain points with the current system and talked about their analytical capabilities and needs. We found that most of the current reports were just used to extract data, which was then used to create their own reports in spreadsheets and distribute them manually."
Having completed the fact-finding exercise, VELUX started developing its strategy for meeting the critical needs it identified. The idea was to increase the relevancy of the data for different users and improve overall ease of use by creating data sets specific to each business or department needing access to the SAP systems. Although this, in turn, implied more maintenance would be required, VELUX evaluated that the improved user experience was more important. And by establishing and adhering to a strict naming convention, the business would achieve a single version of the truth as well as keep upkeep costs to a minimum. To achieve these goals, VELUX decided to implement the SAP BusinessObjects suite.
"A shared naming convention was a huge driver for ease of use," says Reinhardt. "Another was giving users the right tool for the right job. Having the same data universe lying behind everything breeds familiarity, so if a new tool is needed, users will still feel confident in what they’re doing because they know the data."
A key initiative to increase relevancy for each business unit was to make data available to reporting from non-SAP systems. To achieve this, VELUX used SAP BusinessObjects Data Services to increase its data sources — pulling in customer relationship management (CRM) data, as one example.
VELUX started its SAP BusinessObjects rollout in September 2011, beginning with smaller sales businesses and first-time SAP ERP implementations, and now has the SAP BusinessObjects suite in 20 markets. VELUX expects the number of users to grow from roughly 700 SAP BEx users to approximately 4,000 active SAP BusinessObjects users by the end of 2014.
"We’ve seen a high increase in the number of users and local reporting activity without a corresponding rise in support requests. This shows we’ve created a flexible setup allowing for relevant reporting with track and trace," says Reinhardt. "We were very focused on increasing users and, moving forward, we can now investigate the value this additional reporting brings to the table."
A Newer, Faster Business Warehouse
Had VELUX been the same size it was when it implemented its first reporting solution, moving to a common reporting platform may have been the end of the company’s BI journey, at least for some time. But VELUX wasn’t the same company. As it brought more subsidiaries onto SAP ERP and SAP NetWeaver BW, pulling in more data sources for reporting and generating an exponential increase in data volumes, the organization started to see the value of increasing its reporting speed beyond that generated by SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator.
"The challenge was bringing this new data to the market quickly," says Reinhardt. "And then thinking ahead to the possibilities of predictive analytics and mobility, the requirement for speed became a key consideration."
With these issues at the forefront, VELUX began to consider running SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA. Knowing, however, that increased reporting speed alone wasn’t going to convince C-level executives to invest in SAP HANA, Reinhardt’s team was able to go ahead with the project by bundling SAP HANA with SAP Business Planning and Consolidation, a tool that uses a monthly simulation-based model for price planning and forecasting, enabling VELUX to move off its long-time yearly planning cycle.
"It was the driver that made the difference, because it represented more business value than the back-end reporting," says Reinhardt. "Having a new consolidation system and planning system, both of which automatically store data in our business warehouse and are automatically available in the SAP BusinessObjects suite, is a tremendous advantage."
A steering committee comprised of members from IT partner Accenture, hardware partner HP, VELUX, and SAP undertook the project through SAP Rapid Deployment solution services. Reinhardt attributed Accenture’s involvement — VELUX’s IT partner and BI project system integrator since 2005 — with helping the project run smoothly.
"It was one of the most successful projects I’ve been a part of," Reinhardt says. "And interestingly, the magnitude of the project didn’t affect the business. Most people believed we had the system down for normal scheduled maintenance. They didn’t realize we were switching the entire database, putting everything into in-memory, and revolutionizing the entire setup. That was the biggest success."
Exploring a Value Proposition
Another revelation of the fact-finding mission VELUX conducted prior to implementing the SAP BusinessObjects suite was that reporting is no longer the sole domain of financial controllers and analysts. This was a valuable insight to come to light, and the company will continue to press users for more feedback and insight on a rolling basis to see how they are adapting to the SAP BusinessObjects suite now integrating with SAP HANA as the underlying database. What reports are being produced? How are they used? Are other tools needed?
"Benefiting from BI is also about analytical maturity," says Reinhardt. "In some departments or companies, maturity is low, and the link between business strategies and the data needed to support the strategy are weak. So we need to be better at tying that link and producing value-added reporting."
One way VELUX will help the system mature is by finding a use case for more predictive analytics. Toward this end, the company has started a proof of concept on predictive analytics with warranty cases, which Reinhardt says is the start of what VELUX anticipates being an analytical strategy for each business unit.
As Reinhardt explains, "We were looking for a project to discuss with management about what we could do to take reporting to the next level. The tools are an enabler, but it’s about training the users to get more out of the data than they ever could before."
For example, can sales reps analyze CRM data to overhaul how they cater to specific accounts? Or can a warehouse manager discover a more efficient logistics strategy? "It’s not just about having the right tools for the right job, but about what’s the right job for the tool," says Reinhardt. "And we can only figure that out by trying different things."
In other words, the VELUX BI journey is ongoing, despite the dramatically altered landscape since its SAP BEx days in 2000. "The fact that we now have very small companies in our group that have created more than 2,000 reports on their own tells us that we’ve managed that journey," says Reinhardt. "When we started, we weren’t even imagining that. We were focused on avoiding ongoing discussions over who had the right figures, so it’s exceeded my expectations. But I think we can do better, because it doesn’t stop here. Our entire setup is based on a continuous dialog with our companies, so we will continue to learn and adapt."