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Posted: 6/5/2012
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Building Material Distributors Distributor Chooses Microsoft BI over IBM, Cuts Deployment Time and Saves $100,000

Building Material Distributors (BMD) needed automated, real-time business intelligence (BI). In 2011, the company worked with third-party Pivotstream to deploy a hosted Microsoft BI solution. By doing so, BMD saved more than U.S.$100,000. It also dramatically sped deployment, saved 200 IT hours monthly, increased efficiency, and boosted competitive advantage.

Business Needs

Building Material Distributors (BMD) supplies quality building products to independent lumberyards, building material dealers, window and door specialty retailers, hardware retailers, and home centers. To deliver excellent service and competitive solutions, the company uses ASW enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to manage its supply chain.

* The Microsoft BI solution is perfect for us because we could get it up and running in less than three months, and it costs us about $100,000 less per year than IBM Cognos. *

Mary Bailey
Senior Director of Corporate Development and Planning
Building Material Distributors

The ASW ERP system generated hundreds of static reports each day. These reports lacked the details employees needed to effectively manage processes. Mary Bailey, Senior Director of Corporate Development and Planning at BMD, explains, “We had no way to easily compare budget and forecast numbers with actual numbers, and we could only see inventory balances at the end of each month.” Employees had to engage IT personnel to obtain custom reports, which could take up to several weeks to create. In addition, if too many reports ran at the same time, or if a report required analysis of more than 1 million rows of data, the ASW system went offline—sometimes crashing every system in the company. As a result, employees often had to wait a long time to get the data needed to make key decisions.

The frustrating delay in insight impeded efficiency because it could be weeks or even months before a manager could see an issue. In addition, static and custom reports could include information from only one product module—either finance or operations. This meant that employees often manually compared data from multiple ASW reports with Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software. However, because people used different calculations, reports were often inconsistent.

BMD initially sought a new ERP solution that could give its employees real-time BI about ERP data in automated reports, dashboards, and key performance indicators (KPIs). The solution needed to be fast, easy to use, and highly available. It also needed to be flexible, to accommodate changes such as adding new products.


BMD evaluated ERP solutions in 2009 and 2010 from SAP, IBM, Oracle, Activant, WoodPro, and Sentry Software. In January 2011, BMD chose a solution based on a new release of ASW ERP that included IBM Cognos. However, before BMD purchased the software, it learned about Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel. BMD tested it and decided to implement a Microsoft BI solution instead. In addition, BMD chose Microsoft partner Pivotstream to host the new solution in its cloud. By choosing Microsoft BI, BMD could avoid upgrading its ERP system. Bailey adds, “There would also be almost no learning curve for employees to use PowerPivot for Excel, and it would be very easy to administer, especially compared to Cognos.”

In just one week, consultants from Pivotstream worked with business and IT personnel at BMD to design and implement the initial solution. This included the creation of a new data mart that runs on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise data management software and the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise operating system. The data mart includes 2.2 gigabytes of data from the ERP system. The team configured Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Integration Services to load the data into tables with up to 85 million rows.

The team also spent about one hour setting up a new portal based on Microsoft SharePoint 2010. It provides centralized access to BI, including hundreds of standardized reports, 25 dashboards, and more than 50 KPIs. The team created the BI with SQL Server 2008 R2 Reporting Services, Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft SharePoint, and Excel 2010. Commenting on the collaboration, Bailey says, “Pivotstream is a fabulous company to work with, and it has provided extensive knowledge about PowerPivot.”

After testing the initial solution for about 3 months, BMD released it into production. Twenty-five employees use a web browser to access reports and modify them by changing filters to view more or less detail. In addition, four employees can use PowerPivot for Excel to build custom reports with any information in the data mart.


By implementing a self-service BI solution based on SQL Server 2008 R2, PowerPivot for SharePoint, and PowerPivot Excel, BMD saves money, boosts efficiency, and improves its competitive advantage.

Saves More Than $100,000

By choosing Microsoft over other vendors, BMD saved time and money. “The Microsoft BI solution is perfect for us because we could get it up and running in less than three months, and it costs us about $100,000 less per year than IBM Cognos,” Bailey says. “It would have taken six months to install Cognos, and we avoided a $250,000 upgrade of our ERP system and about three months of additional training which would have cost thousands of dollars.”

Increases Efficiency and Recoups 200 IT Hours a Month

Today, reports are created in real time, are consistent across groups, and can contain data from all ASW modules. Bailey says, “With the Microsoft BI solution, executives and managers can compare detailed information about sales against budgets, so we can hold people accountable at a level that we couldn’t before. Category managers can also see detailed product data, quickly pinpoint margin loss, and adjust processes mid-period.” Employees are more productive because they can access BI at any time, and the new solution provides faster, more reliable performance. “With PowerPivot for Excel, we can process millions of rows of data in seconds without crashing systems,” says Bailey.

Employees can also create reports and dashboards independently. Bailey says, “By implementing PowerPivot for Excel, the IT department saves at least 200 hours a month by not having to create reports. Now they are free to work on key initiatives such as the deployment of a new CRM system that we will use to share screenshots of reports and dashboards with customers.”

Improves Competitive Advantage

BMD is improving how it works with suppliers and vendors. “Together, PowerPivot, SQL Server, and SharePoint create a transformative BI solution that is changing how we operate as a company,” says Bailey. “Microsoft BI puts us far ahead of most other companies in our industry in terms of how we analyze data and work with customers—and we’re just starting to tap into its potential.”

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

Organization Size: 250 employees

Organization Profile

Based in Galt, California, Building Material Distributors is a specialized wholesale distributor of building and forest products. The employee-owned company operates seven sites in the United States.

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

Vertical Industries
Wholesale Distribution

United States

Business Need
Business Intelligence and Reporting

IT Issue
  • Data Warehousing
  • High Availability