BI keeps the beer flowing


While beer has been known to diminish intellectual – and other – performance, business intelligence (BI) is being used to boost an international brewer’s performance and corporate smarts.

Labatt Breweries of Canada has created an enterprise-wide business intelligence (BI) system that helps identify and respond more effectively to customer needs .

The new BI system has also helped the beer manufacturer enhance the accuracy and timeliness of strategic decisions such as: what kind beer to produce, how to package it, for what demographic or market, and at what time of the year.

At the core of Labatt’s new environment is technology from Ottawa-based BI and performance management software vendor, Cognos Inc.

The company reviewed several enterprise BI vendors’ products before settling on Cognos.

However, even before Cognos technology could be introduced into the project, Labatt needed to make major structural changes, specifically around its data gathering, reporting and analysis model.

“Integration” and “consistency” were the magic words – the driving force – behind this entire exercise, according to Mike Ali, change management manager at Labatt.

Ali said there was previously a disconnect between Labatt’s data management processes and its corporate structure, which has changed significantly over the years.

In the past, he said, the company was required to produce beer in the province it was sold, so data was “bounded in provincial silos.”

Over time, however, as those regulations disappeared, Labatt’s data and processes needed to change as well, Ali said. The Labatt executive noted that his company has grown well beyond its Ontario roots. Today, it produces 50 beers for local and international markets, with Brazil being one of the company’s larger markets.

This dramatic expansion – and accompanying changes in Labatt’s corporate structure – called for fundamental changes in its data management processes as well.

The challenge, Ali said, was to create one set of tools and technologies for the organization as it moved from a provincial to a regional to a national model.

So in recent years, the company devoted a great deal of time and resources to building up consistent data structures that support multiple views across various functions and subject areas.

According to Ali, the enterprise BI initiative actually grew out of four separate projects that began in 2002 and were later merged. “We did a lot of work before implementing Cognos – we had the start of a foundation, but it was primarily focused on sales volume.”

Labatt had a more far reaching objective than introducing specific process changes that would drive specific benefits. “It wasn’t just about cost-savings, or rationalizing or reducing the number of tools used,” said Doug Barton, vice-president of product marketing at Cognos. He said the beer company’s make over was structural. “Labatt created a corporate performance management environment.”

It was for the ingenuity and effort that went into creating this “environment” that Cognos recently honoured Labatt with its Performance Visionary Award at a customer conference held in Las Vegas.

Labatt had to address several challenges in the process of putting the environment together. One of these was data integration.

The company needed to link sales volume data to financial, logistical and other metrics, and also feed in information from the supply side of business – breweries, distributors and retail outlets.

A repository of data from multiple sources that’s been seamlessly integrated is a “solid foundation” for BI, Ali said. He said Cognos tools were used to harness data from within this integrated environment. “You can the start to plan, report and analyze in each performance management cycle, across processes in each cycle.” This integrated environment offers you perspectives you never had before, Ali said.

A second challenge related not to data, but to people: securing the buy of everyone involved. As you [start to] integrate, said Ali, everyone has their own view about the course the project should take, and “you have to find common ground that works for all.”

He said a major success factor in the BI rollout was putting the business people, who were actually going to ‘own’ and manage integrated areas, in leadership positions, instead of getting consultants in to do most of the work and then getting business sign off.

The effort was significant, but so was the payoff.

According to Ali, Cognos BI technology working within a consolidated data environment has increased the quality and consistency of information across the company, and the associated decision-making.

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