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Posted: 4/13/2010
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Mediterranean Shipping Company Shipping Company Makes Critical Data Available Faster with New BI Tools

Faced with fierce competition and a troubled global economy, business decision makers at Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) were turning more and more to their IT department for help in producing detailed data analysis and reports. This explosion in demand for customized data reporting was straining the IT staff and hampering corporate decisions. So MSC looked for technology that could deliver more data directly into the hands of business users—and provide easy-to-use tools for analyzing the information. The company found a solution in Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data management software and its self-service business intelligence tools, including Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel. The new solution helps deliver huge volumes of data to MSC users so they can make important decisions faster and collaborate more easily.

Situation

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is the second-largest container ship line in the world based on volume. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, MSC owns more than 400 ships that deliver cargo to 270 ports on six continents. MSC customers include Fortune 100 companies, such as large retailers of well-known household products.

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* With the right information and the right permissions, our business users can now answer questions and produce reports themselves using the new business intelligence tools in SQL Server 2008 R2.  *

Bob Erickson
Executive Vice President of Software Development for Interlink Technology
Mediterranean Shipping Company

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MSC operates in an industry that is fiercely competitive and subject to the currents of global economic conditions. The privately owned company has been highly successful over the years by nurturing a business that has grown through careful management. A key corporate strategy has been to operate as efficiently as possible, with an emphasis on lean operations and low overhead. Integral to that strategy is providing the best available technologies to employees working in offices—or agencies, as they are known in the company—around the world.

MSC traditionally has been a heavy user of Microsoft products and technologies. These include Microsoft SQL Server data management software, which MSC has used for its operations since the mid-1990s. By late 2009, the MSC agencies were running various editions of Microsoft SQL Server 2008. The SQL Server installations support the databases underlying MSCLink, an internally developed, mission-critical software application used for an array of tasks, including operations, logistics, documentation, data analysis, and reports. For example, MSCLink provides information on where company ships are headed, how cargo is routed to its destination, how much container capacity is being used, and what type of cargo is being moved.

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services and SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services are key parts of MSCLink. In fact, they have become so important that agencies across the company have been continually asking for customized analysis and reports—requests that often involve IT assistance. This has created tremendous pressure to find alternate ways of delivering business intelligence (BI) to MSC users across the globe, says Bob Erickson, Executive Vice President of Software Development for Interlink Technology. Interlink is a subsidiary of MSC that is responsible for developing and managing the company’s software.

“We have had an explosion in the use of SQL Server Analysis Services and SQL Server Reporting Services,” says Erickson. “The shipping business has very complex logistics and is tied to the global economy. So executives at headquarters and in other MSC agencies are relying more and more on these SQL Server features to deliver the key information for making decisions that can have a major effect on our business.”

One consequence of the increased demand for analysis is the extra work it puts on the Interlink division, which has about 60 staff members who support more than half of the company’s global business activities.

Erickson cites an example from early 2009, when the Interlink staff was asked to assist in the reports and analysis used for determining changes in a major shipping line.

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* The shipping business has very complex logistics and is tied to the global economy. So executives … are relying more and more on these SQL Server features to deliver the key information for making decisions that can have a major effect on our business.  *

Bob Erickson
Executive Vice President of Software Development for Interlink Technology
Mediterranean Shipping Company

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“It was a critical business decision that would have a major economic impact. There were a lot of complex factors, including whether to use the Suez Canal or Panama Canal, whether to land on the East Coast or West Coast of the United States, and how to manage the availability of ground transportation,” says Erickson. “Reports were revised numerous times, and we were all trying to ensure that we were making the right decisions. But it really tied down our IT organization. And that was just for a one-time decision.”

Erickson says the Interlink IT team began looking at possible technology solutions that could deliver more self-service BI capabilities to MSC end users and reduce the workload on IT administrators.

Solution

The Interlink division at MSC decided to run a pilot program using a beta version of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise in the company’s U.S. operations, one of its busiest hubs. The pilot began in late 2009, and the software will be made available to other regional agencies when employees at those locations request it.

Erickson says MSC was especially excited about the extensive support for self-service BI in SQL Server 2008 R2, particularly with Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel. By using this free, downloadable BI technology, MSC users will be able to work with massive volumes of data in their Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software, delivering much of the analytic power contained in SQL Server 2008 R2 Analysis Services to the desktop. It also gives users more freedom to create their own reports from Microsoft Excel 2010 or other Microsoft Office applications, reducing the number of requests for the IT department to publish analysis using SQL Server 2008 R2 Reporting Services.

Excel 2010 is part of the Microsoft Office 2010 suites that will be deployed throughout MSC when the Office 2010 software is released. The company ran another pilot in late 2009 that made a beta version of Office 2010 available to a group of users in the United States.

The organization also plans to upgrade its intranet from Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, so MSC users can take advantage of Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft SharePoint. PowerPivot for SharePoint works with SharePoint Server 2010 to deliver a set of server-side applications, services, and features that support collaboration among MSC employees, who can use the intranet to publish analysis and reports created in SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel.

In the pilot, MSC also tested SQL Server 2008 R2 data compression functionality, which includes support for UCS-2 Unicode. With this feature, more types of data can be compressed, which in turn frees up disk storage space and expedites the archiving of transactions that take place in the MSCLink system.

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* Instead of e-mailing reports back and forth, we can use PowerPivot for SharePoint to collaborate and share analysis across locations, and use SQL Server 2008 R2 Analysis Services as a direct feed for information published on the intranet.  *

Andre Simha
Chief Information Officer
Mediterranean Shipping Company

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Benefits

The decision to deploy SQL Server 2008 R2 in one of the company’s busiest regional operations is already delivering benefits to Mediterranean Shipping Company—benefits that Interlink IT staff members expect to lead to more deployments in other agencies. A key benefit is how quickly employees can produce clear analysis from massive volumes of complex information to make business decisions. New self-service BI tools are easy for employees to use and provide new ways of looking at information. They also reduce the number of reporting and analysis tasks that require IT assistance. In addition, the data compression technology in SQL Server 2008 R2 is helping the company reduce disk space and streamline backups.

Supports Faster Decision Making

New self-service BI tools are helping MSC employees make faster, better informed decisions. In early 2010, while testing PowerPivot for Excel, Erickson became involved in discussions about a U.S. regulation that requires shipping lines to provide the U.S. Customs Service with detailed information about cargo arriving at the nation’s ports.

“Compliance with the regulation is very complex, and while we were doing our analysis of the business impact, we went back to our traditional and time-consuming way of producing spreadsheets to gather information,” Erickson says. “So we decided to try using SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel. We imported data from SQL Server 2008 R2, analyzed the data, and produced a one-page report with a graph showing where we should be the most proactive. By using PowerPivot for Excel and SQL Server 2008 R2, it took us about one hour to produce a good report that in the past would have required multiple meetings and a day or more in staff time.”

Helping employees share more of their analysis on the intranet is expected to produce similar timesaving benefits. “Instead of e-mailing reports back and forth, we can use PowerPivot for SharePoint to collaborate and share analysis across locations, and use SQL Server 2008 R2 Analysis Services as a direct feed for information published on the intranet,” says Andre Simha, Chief Information Officer for Mediterranean Shipping Company. “Users can publish their Excel 2010 workbooks on a SharePoint site, and people they are working with simply click a link to open the workbook. We expect that PowerPivot for SharePoint will streamline the collaboration process between our regional agencies and our headquarters in Geneva.”

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* Features of PowerPivot for Excel—such as its ability to handle millions of rows in an Excel file and analysis tools like slicers and filters—are giving end users the ability to see questions that they didn’t even know they had.  *

Fabio Catassi
Chief Technology Officer
Mediterranean Shipping Company

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Provides New Ways to View Data

The BI tools available with SQL Server 2008 R2 are easy to use, and they can be used almost instantly by anyone familiar with Excel. Fabio Catassi, Chief Technology Officer for Mediterranean Shipping Company, says PowerPivot for Excel is extremely compelling for MSC employees because it takes advantage of the familiar Microsoft Office Fluent user interface and Excel functions while providing additional tools that deliver new ways of viewing data.

“Features of PowerPivot for Excel—such as its ability to handle millions of rows in an Excel file and analysis tools like slicers and filters—are giving end users the ability to see questions that they didn’t even know they had,” Catassi says. “We’ve always been very good at answering questions. By using PowerPivot for Excel, we have tools that help us look at data from different angles. Sometimes this will produce a data point that might not have appeared in the past but now leads to further questions, such as ‘Why did that happen?’ This leads to deeper insights into our business and better decision making.”

Reduces Burden on IT Staff

The dramatically increased support for self-service BI in SQL Server 2008 R2 is expected to reduce the amount of time that the Interlink IT staff needs to spend responding to requests for reports and analysis. Erickson says the new BI tools will address a common problem—the gap between what business users actually want in terms of reports and analysis, and what IT administrators produce when interpreting those instructions.

“We have IT people who are very talented, and business people who are savvy at what they do,” says Erickson. “Now, instead of spending time trying to bridge the different interpretations of what a business user wants, we can simply define the data feeds that come from SQL Server 2008 R2 and push that information out to the users. With the right information and the right permissions, our business users can now answer questions and produce reports themselves using the new business intelligence tools in SQL Server 2008 R2. We expect this to have a major impact in reducing the time that the IT staff spends responding to requests from our business users.”

Streamlines Data Backup and Archiving

Although the pilot project focused on BI tools, Erickson says the IT staff also uses the new data compression technology in SQL Server 2008 R2.

“We anticipate that the data compression will have a broad effect on the efficiency of performing backups and freeing up disk space on our servers,” he says. “We keep an archive of every transaction in the MSCLink system. During some initial tests of the SQL Server 2008 R2 compression technology, we were able to free up about 3 terabytes of data. We also reduced our backup and restore processes to about half the time that they used to take.”

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 delivers higher scalability for mission-critical environments, more efficient IT, and expanded reporting and analytics through self-service business intelligence.

For more information about Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2, go to:
www.microsoft.com/sqlserver/2008/en/us/R2-editions.aspx%20

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In , call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 and , please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about Mediterranean Shipping Company products and services, call (41) 22 703 8888 or visit the Web site at: www.mscgva.ch

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 35000 employees

Organization Profile

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is a leading global shipping line. Founded in 1970, the company has 35,000 employees and more than 400 vessels. It serves 270 ports worldwide.


Business Situation

The rapidly growing use of data analysis to run its global business in a tough economic environment led MSC to seek new tools that business users could employ to analyze data and produce their own reports.


Solution

MSC deployed a beta version of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 in its U.S. operations to take advantage of new self-service business intelligence tools, including Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel.


Benefits

  • Supports faster decision making
  • Provides new ways to view data
  • Reduces burden on IT staff
  • Streamlines data backup and archiving


Software and Services
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise
  • Microsoft Excel 2010
  • Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel

Vertical Industries
Logistics

Country/Region
Switzerland

Business Need
  • Business Intelligence and Reporting
  • Data Management
  • Data Protection and Recovery

IT Issue
Data Warehousing

Languages
English

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