Biobest operates in the fast-growing field of environmentally friendly agriculture. The Belgian firm sells bumblebees for natural pollination and beneficial insects and biopesticides for pest control. To help salespeople target the best opportunities
and give management access to up-to-date sales data, Biobest worked with IT partner element61 to create a sales reporting solution that is delivered as a cloud service using Microsoft SQL Azure Reporting. Because salespeople can access the tool from any web
browser, they can submit data to management in hours rather than days and be much more effective in their sales efforts. Biobest avoided spending US$50,000 to create an in-house reporting infrastructure and was able to create the solution in just three months.
And because the cloud service is cost-effective and scalable, Biobest can expand access to the tool as the company grows.
With concerns about food safety and environmental sustainability top-of-mind for both businesses and consumers,
is in the right place at the right time. Biobest sells bees for agricultural pollination in addition to beneficial insects (such as aphids and ladybugs), mites, nematodes, and biopesticides
for pest control. The Westerlo, Belgium–based company employs about 350 people worldwide; has offices in Belgium, Canada, France, Mexico, Turkey, and Spain, and it has distributors and customers in more than 50 countries. Revenues in 2010 were approximately
€20 million (US$27.6 million).
Dr. Roland De Jonghe launched Biobest in his garage in 1987, but the demand for Biobest products has grown steadily as more farmers embrace environmentally friendly ways to grow their crops. “When we started 20 years ago, we were just a family business focused
on providing the best solutions and finding new customers around the world,” says Bert Synaeve, Marketing and Communications Manager for Biobest. “We expanded faster than our IT systems could handle. We never created a standardized and business-caliber IT
infrastructure or reporting system, and by the time we had 350 employees around the world, it was really difficult to keep everyone on the same page and operate from a unified set of data.”
||By using SQL Azure Reporting, we were able to very quickly get this sales reporting application up and running without the time and expense of creating an in-house infrastructure.
Marketing and Communications Manager, Biobest
The headquarters office used a customized version of Microsoft Dynamics NAV for its enterprise resource planning system, but not all Biobest offices around the world used the program, and those that did used it in a nonstandardized manner. The company used
Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software for forecasting and budgeting, and salespeople cobbled together sales reports when they had time between sales calls. However, sales reports required a great deal of time to create and were difficult to distribute,
consolidate, and reference.
This was a problem for management because it had no reliable or up-to-date source of sales data and customer information with which to forecast revenue and guide company growth. When salespeople completed a customer visit, they had to go back into the office
to create their reports—because they could not access Microsoft Dynamics NAV from outside the office—which often did not happen for one or two days because of travel schedules. This meant that the data was not always fresh in salespeople’s minds and that management
did not have an up-to-date view of the business.
Biobest also lacked a business intelligence (BI) system, so the company’s 15 salespeople did not have the sales, customer, and market data that is necessary to conduct effective sales calls. Biobest assigns an annual sales forecast to each customer, but
it was challenging for salespeople to understand where each customer was, year-to-date, in their Biobest buying. This made it difficult to negotiate with customers and sometimes resulted in lost sales.
“Our salespeople are very technical agricultural engineers who don’t want to spend their time building reports, plus they are traveling all the time,” Synaeve says. “We want them selling, and we also want them focusing their time on the biggest opportunities.
But without a good reporting solution, we did not know which those were.”
By late 2010, Biobest planned to upgrade its entire IT infrastructure, including its reporting capabilities, but this would take two years. “We needed to get a BI solution in place quickly,” Synaeve says. “In this case, the lack of an IT solution was a real
bottleneck to business growth.”
Biobest consulted element61, a local performance management and business intelligence consulting company. To create the infrastructure needed to support an in-house BI solution, Biobest would have to spend significantly and hire someone to manage it.
Additionally, acquiring and setting up servers would take time.
An Opportunity to Use Cloud Services
In response, element61 recommended that Biobest run its reporting solution and accompanying data warehouse on
, which provides on-demand compute, storage, networking, and content delivery capabilities through Microsoft data centers. In late 2009, element61 won a contest
sponsored by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which provided funding for cloud-related BI projects for small and midsize businesses. “Often, smaller businesses are apprehensive about using BI, thinking that such a setup is too complex and expensive
for them,” says Toon Puissant, Consulting Director at element61. “The ERDF project aims to combat these misconceptions, and we were given funding to help several companies implement BI solutions. We decided to make Biobest our first.”
Biobest agreed that
cloud services were the simplest, fastest, and most cost-effective way to run its BI solution. By using a cloud model, Biobest would not have to spend money on hardware and software and could easily make data available to salespeople anywhere in the world.
Biobest could take advantage of the pay-as-you-go pricing model of Windows Azure, paying only for the services that it used each month.
The Convenience of Cloud Computing
In December 2010, element61 started working with Biobest to create its BI solution, beginning with project definition and extending through architecture definition, design, build, implementation, and training. After about 100 days of work, element61
completed the project.
To house the data warehouse portion of the BI solution, element61 used
Microsoft SQL Azure Reporting, a cloud-based reporting capability built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies. The BI solution extracts data from Microsoft Dynamics NAV and forecast spreadsheets. It then uses Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Integration Services
to check data quality and transform and load the data into SQL Azure in a dimensional model. In addition to the BI solution, element61 created a number of standard reports that salespeople and managers use to analyze the data.
“There was no difference to my staff in building a data warehouse for an on-premises or a cloud database,” Puissant says. “The difference comes in managing the solution once built—tuning the database, knowing where files are, managing disk storage, capacity
planning, and performing upgrades to new service packs. All that work goes away because Microsoft handles it.”
Biobest salespeople use the new
SQL Azure Reporting BI solution to access detailed reports on customers and on internal Biobest business systems (Figure 1). They can see where each customer is in their year-to-date spending, check Biobest prices and product availability, see any shipping
problems, read about problems that customers are having with certain crops or Biobest products, and much more. Managers in the home office can see where each salesperson is in his or her monthly sales targets, observe trends that may affect sales or present
new market opportunities, and access up-to-date data with which to run the company.
|Figure 1. Sample reports that Biobest salespeople and managers see
from the business intelligence solution that runs on Microsoft SQL Azure
“Our salespeople are not obliged, as they were before, to return to their offices to create these reports,” Synaeve says. “They can go online anywhere to create reports whenever they have time, within a few hours of their sales calls, so the data is fresher
and reported to management sooner.”
By deploying its BI solution as a cloud service using SQL Azure Reporting, Biobest was able to quickly and cost-effectively deliver a reporting solution that helps salespeople submit reports in hours rather than days and gives management access to up-to-date
sales data. Sales calls are more productive now that salespeople have access to customer and market data from any web browser.
Efficient Delivery of BI Solution
By hosting its data warehouse in SQL Azure and using SQL Azure Reporting, Biobest implemented its BI solution in just three months, without waiting on a long-range IT plan to take shape. “We have plans to upgrade our IT systems over the next two years,
but our sales reporting could not wait for that,” Synaeve says. “By using SQL Azure Reporting, we were able to very quickly get this sales reporting application up and running without the time and expense of creating an in-house infrastructure.”
Cost Avoidance of $50,000
Biobest estimates that it avoided US$50,000 in hardware and software costs by running its BI solution as a cloud service, rather than building an on-premises solution. The company would have needed to spend another $12,000 annually to maintain it onsite.
||We want [our salespeople] selling, and we also want them focusing their time on the biggest opportunities. But without a good reporting solution, we did not know which those were.
Marketing and Communications Manager, Biobest
pay-as-you-go pricing model
of Windows Azure doesn’t take a big chunk out of our capital funds,” Synaeve says. “We can put this money toward hiring more salespeople who generate revenue. It’s also much easier to budget.
Improved Business Insight
Because salespeople can access the cloud-based reporting solution anytime, anywhere, they can complete sales reports in a few hours rather than the days. “As a company, we can now quickly respond to customer issues and market trends because we are
collecting much more data, much more promptly, from the field
,” Synaeve says. “We can see if multiple salespeople are facing the same problem or if customers in different parts of the world are facing the same agricultural challenges that could represent
a sales opportunity for us. Rather than salespeople and our management following their ‘gut’ instinct, they are acting from hard data.”
“Data that was scattered across different systems before has now been assembled in one central place and has been turned into valuable information,” says Jean-Marc Vandoorne, Chief Executive Officer for Biobest. “Plus, everyone in company is now looking
at a single version of the truth, which helps the company operate in more unified manner.”
More Productive Sales Calls
Biobest salespeople are motivated to complete sales reports because they can use that data to conduct more productive and profitable meetings with customers. “Our salespeople are much more effective because they can better prepare before sales calls,”
Synaeve says. “They can pull a report on a customer before visiting and see their sales forecast, what they’ve purchased year-to-date, and so forth. For the first time, our salespeople have a near-360-degree view of their customers. Our market is growing rapidly,
and this tool helps us target the most profitable accounts so that our sales team is spending its time wisely.”
Greater Scalability, Room for Growth
The Biobest reporting solution is currently used by about 15 salespeople and five managers, but those figures will grow as Biobest continues to grow. “Because our reporting solution is delivered as a cloud service, we can easily and cost-effectively
give access to more employees,” Synaeve says. “Cloud computing makes a lot of sense to companies growing as fast and in as many locations as Biobest."
Windows Azure provides developers the functionality to build applications that span from consumer to enterprise scenarios. The key components of Windows Azure are:
Windows Azure. Windows Azure is a development, service hosting, and service management environment. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, bandwidth, content delivery, middleware, and marketplace
capabilities to build, host, and scale web applications through Microsoft data centers.
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure is a self-managed, multitenant relational cloud database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies. It provides built-in high availability, fault tolerance,
and scale-out database capabilities, as well as cloud-based data synchronization and reporting, to build custom enterprise and web applications and extend the reach of data assets.
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