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Case Study


Key Takeaways from Newell Rubbermaid's Remarkable Reporting Transformation

by Lauren Bonneau, Senior Editor, SAPinsider | insiderPROFILES

July 1, 2010

Maintaining over 3,000 business intelligence reports is one thing; making executives wait for hours for a report, with little confidence in the data’s accuracy, is another. Newell Rubbermaid once faced these challenges, but now it generates comprehensive reports at lightning speed. Discover how the company leveraged SAP solutions to achieve this victory.

When it comes to business intelligence (BI) reporting, speed can be just as important as accuracy. Yet, many busy executives and line-of-business managers find themselves waiting around for reports to be generated.

At Newell Rubbermaid, a leading global consumer products company, a vice president who oversees the supply chain for the entire business routinely joked to his colleagues that waiting for his daily sales and inventory report every morning was his opportunity to take an hour-long coffee break.

Newell Rubbermaid has recently overcome its challenges with global analytics and reporting, however. After launching a comprehensive BI transformation initiative, the company is now providing its executives with comprehensive BI reports at lightning speed through a combination of SAP BusinessObjects solutions and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator (SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator), an in-memory analytics solution. After the company began using SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator, the executive remarked, “What used to be a long coffee break is now a short coffee sip.”

Delivering Easy-to-Consume Reports Quickly

BI reports deliver critical top-line and bottom-line figures that business leaders depend on to make strategic business decisions. For global companies operating with a mix of back-end systems, it can be a challenge to quickly roll up information — such as financial data, sales figures, and inventory levels — across multiple business entities. Even more challenging is determining how to present this data to executives in a user-friendly format so they can easily consume the information.

“People at the VP and SVP level do not want to navigate through detailed reports,” says Matt Stultz, Vice President of Global IT at Newell Rubbermaid. “What we’re seeing now, as people increasingly consume information visually, is that there’s not as much of a need for a lot of the data mining and granularity that used to be there.”

According to Rajeev Kapur, IT Director of Business Analytics at Newell Rubbermaid, the company had been maintaining more than 3,000 different operational-looking BI reports. Users didn’t always have confidence in the accuracy of the data, and the sheer amount of information was overwhelming.

“Executive information consumers should view data from high-level KPI dashboards and then drill down on an exception basis versus searching through a bunch of data for exceptions,” Kapur says. “Otherwise, they lose sight of information they really need because there’s too much data in there.”

“We’re now introducing analytical and operational dashboards, and we’re seeing that ‘wow factor’ from our end-user community.”
Matt Stultz, Vice President, Global IT, Newell Rubbermaid
Revenue of Newell Rubbermaid

This chart displays Newell Rubbermaid’s 2009 revenue divided among its three business groups. Each group contains multiple global business units (GBUs), which contain multiple brands.

Moving to SAP BusinessObjects Solutions

About two years ago, the company’s business units that were running SAP systems were experiencing data-extraction challenges, with fairly low user adoption of the reporting tools in place. To improve the discovery and delivery of business data in its order management, marketing, and supply chain organizations — and to stay ahead of the curve — Newell Rubbermaid decided to restructure its BI architecture.

“We were trying to serve all of our different demographics with one tool — a tool that’s not designed for that purpose,” Stultz says. “We identified a problem, decided to fix it, and developed a roadmap to a solution.” Stultz’s colleagues in the SAP space all assured him that if he jumped on board and joined the new game of business analytics, he’d benefit from it. “So we got right on the SAP BusinessObjects bandwagon to increase our toolset and deliver reporting at the right level,” he says. “And we’re seeing a lot of benefits from it right now.”

Previously, from a BI reporting perspective, every single user had to use SAP Business Explorer (SAP BEx) tools to get data out of SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW), regardless of what position they held in the company.

According to Kapur, Newell Rubbermaid still bases its reporting layer on SAP BEx analytics, and the company plans to follow SAP’s recommendation and continue to use the toolset where appropriate. “SAP BEx tools are great for the analytical people to solve their needs — for example, a financial controller might be able to use them to get exactly what he or she wants,” he says. “But executives who need analytics at a high level don’t want to navigate through SAP BEx reports. They need the information rolled up in a dashboard, and they need easy-to-use ad hoc query analysis tools.”

Now, instead of users relying 100% on an SAP BEx interface, the company has adopted a new set of solutions including SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence, SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius, SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, and other tools in the SAP BusinessObjects information management package. “We’re now introducing analytical and operational dashboards with SAP BusinessObjects solutions, and we’re seeing that ‘wow factor’ from our end-user community,” says Stultz.

According to Stultz, the user community is especially excited about SAP BusinessObjects Explorer because the company chose to run the accelerated version of the tool on SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator. In addition to enabling ad hoc access and analytical reporting, SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator has improved query performance dramatically — “making it a hundred times faster,” says Stultz.

Newell IT Team

Newell Rubbermaid team (L to R): Yatkwai Kee, Lead Architect, Business Analytics; Rajeev Kapur, IT Director, Business Analytics; and Matt Stultz, Vice President, Global IT

Establishing a Foundation

To set the groundwork for the analytics solutions, Newell Rubbermaid upgraded its data warehouse software. The company completed a successful SAP NetWeaver BW 7.1 go-live with its largest business unit, which includes the Rubbermaid brand. The implementation affected 27 sites and a large portion of the more than 4,000 named SAP users at the company. According to Stultz, it was a challenge to deploy the software to the right people in the right areas, but the go-live went off smoothly — thanks in large part to the effective change management training that was put into place. 

Now that the SAP NetWeaver BW implementation is 95% complete across the business groups, the foundation is established for company-wide projects involving reporting and analytics. The company has about 1,400 active SAP users who run at least one report every 30 days, while some run weekly or daily reports. Out of those users, approximately 400 are using SAP BusinessObjects BI tools.

According to Stultz, SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence provides a feature-rich environment for traditional BI users, offering the flexibility to leverage broader and deeper analysis and create web reports with ease. SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, which is platform- agnostic, enables data exploration for casual users who are unfamiliar with any BI tools — providing fast, Google-like, auto-suggested search results. And SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius is critical for IT users from a dashboard standpoint because it allows them to design unique interfaces tailored to each of Newell Rubbermaid’s brands. These “storytelling” dashboards let users drill down from a high-level KPI and, below that, drive lower-level graphs and charts specific to that KPI.

“You get all this data, you slice and dice it, and it comes back within milliseconds. You blink, and you see the data.”
Rajeev Kapur, IT Director, Business Analytics, Newell Rubbermaid

Delivering Superior Reporting and Analytics

To start taking advantage of these new reporting and analytics tools, Newell Rubbermaid embarked on a high-profile global sales and operations planning (S&OP) project. “Because our brands are thought to be very unique, we needed to be able to understand — from a company-wide S&OP standpoint — a lot of common themes these brands may have,” Stultz says.

The project team first built a dashboard with SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius, and then built approximately 40 web reports with SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence to complement the dashboard. The screenshot below shows the dashboard in action.

Example Dashboard

An example of a dashboard created with SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius for Newell Rubbermaid’s sales and operations planning (S&OP) reporting

The company is also leveraging SAP BusinessObjects Explorer to provide live SAP data across its Home & Family group for point-of-sale (POS) data. The screenshot below shows an example of the POS report, which pulls data in real time for even the most casual business user.

Example Report

The POS report lets casual business users perform analytics on SAP data in real time by leveraging SAP BusinessObjects Explorer

“A systematic global rollup of supply, inventory, and demand data was now a reality at Newell Rubbermaid,” says Kapur. “This was the first time executives could see this information in a format they could easily consume.” This project enabled the company to join data globally from business units that run SAP back-end systems as well as non-SAP systems, which was especially innovative considering that only half of the company was leveraging SAP NetWeaver BW at this point.

Enabling Improved Decision Making

Through these and other projects and advances in reporting and analytics (including a POS data project), the company now has a clearer view into its unique brands and allows executives to make more coherent, smarter, and faster decisions around them.

Coherency: With a common SAP platform and a unified data model, apples start equaling apples — so analytics performed on this standardized data lead to logical, common, and consistent decisions. “What the S&OP project was trying to accomplish was to create one way to manage the business, instead of 13 different ways to manage 13 global business units,” Stultz says. Newell Rubbermaid can now define and measure KPIs exactly the same way for every global business unit (GBU), and then design all of its analytics around those results. “We can start to take advantage of the common denominator and common themes across all our GBUs,” he says. “For example, if we see one business unit that’s hitting it out of the park in one business process area, other business units can understand how and why that’s happening and learn how to get the same type of improvements.”

Intelligence: Smarter decisions come from the ability to make accurate projections and succinct measurements based on real-time business data. According to Kapur, the S&OP analytics help to fulfill one of Newell Rubbermaid’s major goals of lowering inventory costs. They also achieve a second major objective of driving excellence in service levels. “These types of reports allow us to measure ourselves on our service levels and make necessary improvements,” he says.

Speed: According to Stultz, one of the key drivers for the BI transformation project was performance, since instant answers lead to quicker decisions. “The query response time had been 30–40 minutes for some of these reports,” he says. “Once we put in SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator, the response time was down to between 5–10 seconds — lightning speed. The user community was blown away.” (The chart below shows a comparison of query performance before and after implementing SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator.) According to Kapur, adding SAP BusinessObjects Explorer to the mix just takes you to another level. “You get all this data, you slice and dice it, and it comes back within milliseconds,” he says. “You blink, and you see the data.”

BW Accelerator comparison

A comparison of query performance before and after implementing SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator


“The query response time with SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator was lightning speed. The user community was blown away.”
Matt Stultz, Vice President, Global IT, Newell Rubbermaid

Creating Enterprise-Wide Demand for BI

There is now a lot of demand for BI across Newell Rubbermaid’s entire business. For example, marketing, sales, and other teams are looking at new data visualization dashboards, and they are asking IT to build dashboards that will provide similar information and analytics for their areas. “As the supply chain is happier and other business areas see this, inevitably more demands are coming up in the finance and marketing spaces,” says Kapur.

The claims dashboard created with SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius to help the company track financial metrics is a good example. The dashboard replaced an untenable spreadsheet that users had to drill through — now, they have access to much more information, all in one easy-to-use front end.

“A dashboard can serve a whole different demographic that was not being serviced by our previous SAP BEx reports,” says Stultz. “Now that we developed some easier-to-use web reports and dashboards, users can see data aggregated at a certain level, without having to go through some cryptic report. They can just simply see how they’re trending or review a certain KPI, and immediately take action.” (The screenshots below show a previous monthly inventory report, and then that same data displayed with SAP BusinessObjects BI solutions.)

Comparison of Reports

A “before and after” comparison of data from a monthly inventory report — the latter leveraging SAP BusinessObjects BI solutions

According to Stultz, the new BI tools have created a huge appetite for analytics across the company. Employees are expecting sub-second response times and nice-looking, intuitive dashboards. “As people start using BI through a certain tool — whether it’s SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius, SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence, SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, or SAP BEx — it becomes a much more critical component of their daily activities,” he says. “So there is a lot more importance placed on exactly what BI delivers for everybody.”

Kapur adds, “We’re now seeing a dependence on reporting throughout the business that was not there before.”

10 Key Takeaways from Newell Rubbermaid’s Transformation Project

1. Treat Your Relationship with SAP Like a Partnership

As an early adopter, Newell Rubbermaid certainly met some challenges during its BI transformation. However, according to Stultz, the company went in with its eyes wide open. He attributes its good contacts and close relationship with SAP as a major success factor. “At the end of the day, you’re going to need SAP’s help to be successful,” he says. “We have a very good relationship with SAP, and we view it like a partnership. If you treat SAP like a partner, they’re going to be more than willing to bend over backward and do whatever it takes to help you get over any bumps that may come along.”

2. Trust Your In-House Expertise

For the most part, Newell Rubbermaid’s BI transformation initiative was internally driven. The company did hire a few outside resources with extensive SAP BusinessObjects experience, but it elected to rely on its own IT and BI experts rather than wholly depend on any consultancy. “This way, our DNA is fully baked into the design and development of what we’ve done, which is really nice because it’s a good feeling for the team,” Stultz says. “It’s the strength and knowledge of the people that we have here in-house that really set us apart. And if we say we’re going to go live on a certain date and with a certain amount of scope, we deliver,” he says.

3. Make Sure the Project Leaders Are Connected to the Business

“Of all the critical success factors, having a close relationship with your CIO is in the top three,” says Stultz. To get approval for the project, Stultz collaborated with his CIO. Together, they talked about the direction SAP is headed in and discussed how if Newell Rubbermaid made the purchase, BI would not continue to be a problem for the company. “Our CIO gives us a lot of leeway to make decisions and implement new software,” he says. “Even if something might seem a little risky, he trusts that we’ll figure out a way to make it successful. In this instance, he trusted us, and I’m glad he did because otherwise, we would have been struggling to make BI work without the right tools in our arsenal to get it done.”

4. Set the Precedent That When You Buy Software, You Use It

“When we buy something, a few months later, we’re live,” says Stultz. After Newell Rubbermaid bought SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius, it was live with the S&OP project within five months. SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator was live two and a half months after the purchase. SAP BusinessObjects Explorer was live within four months. “Our ability to purchase something new and get it out there in production for a specific use case or project is great,” he says. “And that track record is pretty helpful because it makes the following conversations with executives much easier.”

5. Get the Full Support of the Executive Leadership Team

Once Newell Rubbermaid’s CIO gave his support, he immediately helped the team take the business case to the executive team and was able to secure support and funding for the entire implementation. “Our executive leaders are huge supporters of our Catapult program, which is focused on implementing SAP software for all our GBUs,” Stultz says. He believes that getting this kind of sponsorship from people who really understand the anticipated business benefits is a critical success factor for any project.

6. Embed Realism in Your Project Roadmap and Timeline

Instead of buying all of the SAP BusinessObjects solutions and implementing them at once, Stultz advises that companies look at the different offerings SAP has to address each problem — and then build an intelligent, realistic roadmap to achieve their goals. In this way, user adoption will be much higher because the benefits will be more visible. “You’re not going to be able to boil the ocean. It’s going to cost too much money, and you’re going to end up stumbling,” he says. “We understood what we needed to fix, how we needed to fix it, and what a realistic timeline to fix it in was. And then we executed to get that right on target.”

7. Establish a Use Case

“Once you get excitement and vigor from the business around what it can get out of the software, then user adoption will be that much higher,” Stultz says. “Users need to understand their use cases, where they can leverage the different tools, and then very clearly explain their requests or any issues they are experiencing.” The POS report is a good example of a concise use case that Newell Rubbermaid established to show users what SAP BusinessObjects Explorer could deliver. According to Stultz, when everyone saw how successful the report was, they wanted to see their own use cases of how they could use the new reporting solution, too.

8. Know Your Consumer

“When you understand your consumers and their habits, you can tailor your solutions directly to them,” says Stultz. He recommends performing a user demographic segmentation, just like marketers do. For example, at Newell Rubbermaid, a large demographic of people — from low-level to high-level — would leverage SAP solutions on mobile devices. Stultz and his team are coming up with some specific use cases to deliver solutions to mobile users. A few are already in the pipeline, such as a use case for Newell Rubbermaid sales representatives who travel onsite to retail customers. “When they walk down an aisle at a retailer, they need access to specific information to get the retailer to make an immediate decision,” he says. “And that’s what we’re going after because that’s going to hit the bottom line and the top line.”

9. Consider How Users Consume and Share Information

While it’s important to have a leading enterprise data warehouse and a trusted place to store BI data, a business needs to think carefully about how end users consume that information. “In the last two years, we thought about what an executive needs versus an analyst, and what a financial controller needs versus a marketing manager,” Kapur says. “From a BI perspective, our goal is not just having great tools, but having tools that people within the business can use to instantly collaborate with each other. Building a tool that someone can use to find information is great, but the information value is even more amazing if people can then instantly share that data with others in their own group or another business unit.”

10. Build a Strong Team Through Open Communication

“The support and knowledge of our own IT leaders is a huge reason for our success,” says Kapur, who adds that the reason these leaders know so much about the architecture, interdependencies, and challenges of BI is because they were right in there working directly with the team the whole time.

According to Stultz, the BI team at Newell Rubbermaid is the strongest team with which he’s ever been involved. “What’s great is that even the lower-level people are seeking out use cases and then educating the business on how we can deliver solutions to bring those use cases to life,” says Stultz.  “Customers who don’t have that leadership and level of depth are going to struggle — they’ll have all the tools, but they won’t know how to use them. And that’s the most important thing: You can buy the most expensive car on the planet, but without a key to start it, it’s useless. So now, we’ve got a key.”

“Our goal is not just having great tools, but tools that people within the business can use to instantly collaborate with each other.”
Rajeev Kapur, IT Director, Business Analytics, Newell Rubbermaid
What’s Next?

Over the next 14 months, the Newell Rubbermaid team plans to finish its North American rollout of SAP NetWeaver BW (only one business unit is left), look at an implementation in Europe, and then tackle Latin America and Asia Pacific simultaneously over the following year. Within two and a half years, SAP software should be the standard across the whole company.

“We want to be completely independent of our mainframe environment, which still runs our legacy applications. We want to retire that mainframe by the end of next year,” says Stultz. “Our goal as a company is to be running the entire business on SAP software for all our key processes, like order-to-cash, HR, warehousing and distribution, and supply chain. We’ve got a roadmap right now that gets us there — we expect to have that milestone achieved sometime in 2011 or 2012.”

Stultz is also making a big push to extend BI to mobile devices; Newell Rubbermaid is about two months away from putting the first mobile report into production — a mobile version of a high-level executive report. There are over 100 mobile use cases already defined, with intended users ranging from customer service representatives to the company’s executive leaders.

“Instead of having to log in to our portal to access the information, users can just spend a minute on their mobile devices looking over their data and reviewing cases that may require an action,” Stultz says. “That’s why I’m so adamant about getting reporting and analytics on mobile devices — it expands our user base exponentially. That’s when you’re going to start to see a lot of people using a lot more BI.”

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