COMPUTER BUSINESS REVIEW

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Issue Date: November 2003 (es)

Duchess gains insight with outsourced business intelligence

1 November 2003

Business intelligence (BI) has traditionally been the territory of large enterprises with the time, money and skills to use analysis and slice and dice tools to examine their corporate databases and discover trends and patterns in their information. Smaller companies have, until now, not had the ability to access the same tools and functionality for the benefit of their organisations.
Duchess, a local distributor of high-end eyewear such as Police sunglasses, has been in business for the last 16 years and has 1500 regular accounts throughout South Africa. The company's customer base ranges from shops in Sandton to optometrists operating in townships.
"For years we have used Pastel with great success," says Jeanne Rose, MD of Duchess. "Unfortunately, Pastel is an accounting package and produces static reports about the accounts with financial information, not information we can use to measure and improve our business."
Jeanne Rose, MD, Duchess
Jeanne Rose, MD, Duchess
The company's desire was therefore to find a solution that offered the same functionality as enterprise BI systems, but with cost points and technical requirements more suitable for small businesses.
The solution for Duchess came from local BI products and services company, Knowledge Integration Dynamics (KID), distributor of the MicroStrategy range of BI tools. KID created an outsourced, hosted BI service small companies could use without needing to develop and host their own applications and at a fraction of the cost.
Currently, KID extracts Duchess's data from the Pastel system and loads it into an Oracle database on KID's premises on a monthly basis, says Aubrey van Aswegen, MD of KID. "The loading process takes about 15 minutes and Jeanne can then use MicroStrategy tools to slice, dice and analyse her information.
"MicroStrategy offers clients a fully Web-based front end that allows users to operate the full range of BI functionality from a browser," Van Aswegen continues. "This would make it easy to offer BI services via an application service provider (ASP) model, but few small companies in South Africa can afford the bandwidth."
Rose therefore makes a monthly trip to the KID offices where she uses MicroStrategy to analyse her company's information. "MicroStrategy is easy to use and the benefits we obtain from the product are numerous. In the first instance, instead of having a static report, I can view data from any angle, manipulating it to get the best understanding and insight," adds Rose. "In effect, KID has provided us with a knowledge management tool that enables us to see the bigger business picture, looking past the statistics and financial data."
Duchess wanted its data turned into actionable information for businesses. Through her MicroStrategy analysis, Rose says she is able to better align customer service to real sales demand. "By finding out more about our customers, we can classify them and the various regions in South Africa according to what products are in demand and profitable; this permits us to focus our efforts directly on profitable segments.
"It is easy to get so involved in selling without considering the issues involved, such as the cost of sales or the costs and number of returns," Rose adds. "Our BI analysis highlights these areas, and specifically the different parts that need attention. It also instructs us on who and how to hire to meet the needs of the market."
Although the BI effort has only been running for two months, Rose adds that it is providing some 'interesting results' and forcing Duchess to take a hard, honest look at itself. For instance, through the BI Duchess found errors and redundancies in its processes; by remedying these, Duchess has already enjoyed significant savings.
"Small companies have a significant advantage over large corporations in that they do not have to fight red tape and gain executive approval but can act quickly on the results of analysis. It is this speed of response that leads to savings and impacts positively on profitability," Rose explains.
"The intelligence gathered in the BI process provides hard facts to back up the process and enables Duchess to make better informed decisions."
"Small businesses are not in the position to afford full-scale BI implementations," concludes Van Aswegen. "But by taking existing data and using an outsourced hosting system, even smaller companies can tune their businesses to take maximum advantage of the markets."
For more information contact Aubrey van Aswegen, KID, 011 462 1277, aubrey@kid.co.za


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