Celestica builds a BI centre of excellence

TORONTO — There are 40 billion pictures on Facebook. Retailer Wal-Mart conducts one million customer transactions per hour, information that is then fed into a database with a 2.5-petabyte capacity.

Those were just some examples used by Shaun Lester, director of SAP AG’s business intelligence centre of excellence, to illustrate how technological improvements and the emergence of the Web have led to a huge explosion of data.

“The good news is that the majority of this information is digital, which means we can look into this information and do some analytics on it,” said Lester to an audience of IT pros at the SAP Solutions Tour on its Toronto stop.

But the challenge for organizations is that they at once suffer from too little and too much data, said Lester. Businesses are drowning in information, but it’s not the right kind, and business users aren’t getting the access to the data they need because it’s siloed.

“This leads to rock, paper, scissors, making gut decisions,” said Lester.

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While organizations are spending a lot of money on business analytics, Lester said there still isn’t much governance for sharing and managing data. “Instead of finding the needle in the haystack, they just create more hay,” he said.

While 54 per cent of knowledge workers lose productivity from inadequate data access, Lester said successful organizations are those that have a data-driven culture.

A Toronto-based SAP customer, electronics manufacturer and supply chain services provider Celestica, recently created a business intelligence centre of excellence.

Tianbing Qian, senior director of business support solutions, said the company was driven to this BI initiative by several challenges. It wanted to turn its cross-industry supply chain data into useful information, and transform the company from a traditional electronics manufacturing services provider to an “end-to-end lifecycle solutions provider,” said Qian.

There are four key factors that defined Celestica’s approach to building a business intelligence centre of excellence from scratch: doing a proof-of-concept, asking the right business questions, taking a portfolio approach, and assembling a hybrid team.

The BI initiative started in early 2009 with a six- to eight-week proof-of-concept involving real customer data about return and repair cycles for defective electronics, a process that can cost some customers millions. One customer saved $10 million during the proof-of-concept alone, which was great for demonstrating return on investment, said Qian.

But it was necessary to ask the right business questions because while BI can’t help everything, it can be focused on the right areas, like rendering strategic benefits, said Qian. Taking a portfolio approach to the initiative meant embracing the diverse benefits of BI for better leadership buy-in. “We realized not all BI projects will have a quantifiable ROI,” said Qian.

The team tasked with building this centre of excellence is a hybrid one that is composed of staff with business intelligence and analytics background, and those with business know-how but no IT background.

One particular challenge was tempering expectations, said Qian. “It’s okay to get everyone excited, but if they’re disappointed after the first phase, you’re done,” said Qian.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau



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