4-page Case Study
Posted: 5/25/2012
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Ball Aerospace Manufacturer Gains Business Insight in Seconds, Saves $1 Million with BI Solution

Business at the aerospace division of Ball was growing. To put business insight into the hands of project leads and others more quickly, Ball adopted a data warehouse and business intelligence solution based on technologies from Microsoft and Neudesic. The results: business users now get the data and analysis they need in seconds, rather than hours. Data is more accurate, and so is analysis based on that data. Project leads and executives make better, data-driven business decisions. The company is on track to realize annual productivity savings approaching US$1 million and expects that number to increase as it takes broader advantage of the efficiencies that the solution offers.

Situation
Building a spacecraft is supposed to be a complex, technical, time-consuming, and expensive affair. Knowing if you’re building it on time and on budget isn’t.

Yet, gaining business insight into its projects was becoming a challenge for Ball, a manufacturer of innovative metal packaging for food, beverages, and household products, as well as aerospace and related technologies. The company was, in a way, a happy victim of its own success, having outgrown some of the reporting systems that had served it well just a few years earlier. It was a nice challenge to have, especially in the current economic climate, but it was a challenge nonetheless.

Adopted in 1999, the reporting system was used by business analysts in the aerospace division’s IT department to support approximately 150 project leads throughout the division. Those project leads wanted to know if the projects they directed on behalf of customers were to proceed on budget, of course, but they also wanted to know much more. How much could they expect to spend on non-labor costs for their projects? Which costs varied significantly from projections—and why? Was the ratio of billable costs to nonbillable costs within target—and if not, why not?

The raw data with which to answer these and other questions lay in a pair of Oracle databases running commercial off-the-shelf financial management software. The analysts accessed the data through static reports; if the reports didn’t fully answer their questions, the analysts pulled follow-up reports that provided relevant detail. Analysts then downloaded the data, formatted it with Microsoft Excel software, and passed the reports to the project leads along with their analyses.

By 2008, the system had grown to include about 1,600 reports throughout the aerospace division—too many for the IT staff to maintain and update effectively. Meanwhile, the process of finding, running, downloading, and formatting a report took about 30 minutes, too long for business analysts to do their work effectively. When they needed to look at additional data to answer questions from a project lead or financial analyst, they had to repeat the process, sometimes several times.

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* The ability… to pull data from SQL Server Analysis Services cubes whenever you want it and get a clear line of sight to the answers you need is huge. *
Lyle Rogers
Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, Ball Aerospace & Technologies
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The company’s business analysts were each spending several hours a week on this largely mechanical process. That was several hours a week that they weren’t analyzing data to glean insight into the manufacturing process and to make recommendations for more effective and profitable operations. For project leads, this process meant they could wait for hours or days for the answers to their questions.

The delays were much worse when the project leads needed the business analysts to create new reports. Project leads typically waited two or three weeks for a new report, and the backlog of requests often made the wait even longer.

“We were dependent on IT for unique reports; it was difficult and time-consuming to access the information ourselves,” says Lyle Rogers, Director of Financial Planning and Analysis for Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., who heads the office responsible for generating projections for the annual financial planning process. “We spent considerable time in the process, ensuring we were using consistent, accurate, up-to-date data.”

Solution
By 2009, Ball was ready to begin migrating from its reporting platform. The company had recently adopted a strategic direction for technology adoption, which led to Microsoft technologies.

”Our strategy is toward integrated systems.” says Dalal Schneider, Director of Solutions Development, Information Technology Services for Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. “With Microsoft, our Strategic Management organization, which sets the technology direction for IT, saw the opportunity for achieving interoperability across the various layers of the application stack, from the desktop and presentation layers to the server-side applications and the database layer. The Microsoft platform is a strategic fit for Ball, with a low total cost of ownership.”

To help it to design and deploy a data warehouse and business intelligence (BI) solution based on Microsoft technologies, Ball turned to Neudesic, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network with multiple Gold competencies. Neudesic had already assisted Ball with a solution based on Microsoft software. “Neudesic’s expertise with the Microsoft environment was a really strong asset for us, as was its close relationship with Microsoft. We were working with people who had early and broad access to the emerging technologies at Microsoft.”

Together, Ball and Neudesic developed a data warehouse and business intelligence solution based on both Microsoft and Neudesic technologies. At the core of the solution are three technologies:

  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data management software, which supports a staging database and the data warehouse itself

  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, which provides dashboards, reports, and spreadsheets through which the project leads and others access and analyze the data

  • Neudesic accelerators, which provide a framework for delivering Extract-Transfer-Load (ETL) operations and a framework for reporting services

How it Works
The system receives data from the financial databases and other sources. It processes the data through an ETL process based on Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services and the Neudesic ETL Accelerator. The Neudesic technology augments Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services with industry-specific templates, metadata, error-handling, and auditing capabilities. The data is pushed to the staging database—which has 131 tables with 103 million rows—for data validation and business rule application.

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* We spent considerable time in the process, ensuring we were using consistent, accurate, up-to-date data. *
Lyle Rogers
Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, Ball Aerospace & Technologies
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The data is then pushed to the data warehouse, which has 27 dimensions, 34 tables, and 58 million rows. The data warehouse holds 11 million transactions, including financial data going back to 2004. It feeds a pair of Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services cubes that give the project leads and others access to customized views of that financial data through both fixed and slowly moving dimensions, such as point-in-time reporting.

Reports, Custom Templates
Users access and work with the data in several ways. They use reports—based on Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services and the Neudesic Reports Accelerator, and hosted in SharePoint Server—for immediate access to standard formatted reports.

To conduct their own direct analyses of the data, users take advantage of custom templates and pivot tables in Excel Services for SharePoint. Ball users also upload templates that they use with PivotTables in Excel Services for SharePoint, the templates providing baseline reports that can be expanded and modified for ad hoc reporting. Because users can access and examine data, the number of reports that the division needs to maintain is expected to drop significantly.

“An Important Factor in our Success”
Once the system was deployed, and before Ball gave users access to it, the company initiated a mandatory training program. Each user attended a four-hour session on technologies with which they may have been unfamiliar, such as Excel Services and PivotTable reports. The training also covered Ball-specific data structures, terms, and other elements of the system.

“We received great reviews on the training, and it was conducted by knowledgeable business users who had a thorough understanding of the data,” says Schneider. “But the most important measure of success was how the training contributed to a smooth, rapid, and broad adoption of the system. Ball considers training to be an important factor in our success.”

Benefits
Ball is using the Microsoft data warehouse and business intelligence tools to deliver business insight when and where it’s needed, to increase the accuracy of business data and the analyses based on it, to make better decisions, and to generate significant—and still-growing—productivity savings.

Delivers Business Insight in Seconds, Down from Hours
Ball’s key goal for the new system was to sharply reduce the time and trouble it took for project leads to receive and act on information related to their projects.

It succeeded. Instead of depending on business analysts in IT for information, business users now access information directly through a self-service mechanism. It’s a change often called “the democratization of information.”

“It used to take a long time to get a unique business question answered,” says Rogers. “The ability to handle this as a self-service process, to pull data from SQL Server Analysis Services cubes whenever you want it and get a clear line of sight to the answers you need is huge. Instead of waiting hours or more for reports to be generated, you get the data yourself in seconds.”

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* Because we validate the data in the Microsoft data warehouse before it gets to users, the data is more accurate and reliable. *
Lyle Rogers
Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, Ball Aerospace & Technologies
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As part of the self-service data solution, business users can now access the cubes and reports when they’re at home or elsewhere, through a remote connection to the Ball corporate network.

Because self-service access to data is much faster and easier, business users are accessing it in ways that weren’t practical or even possible before. For example, Rogers recalls a management meeting in which he participated, along with several of Ball’s executives. “One of the executives asked a question about margins on work with some of our key customers,” he says. “In the past, we’d have created a report after the meeting, examined the results, and passed along the answers a day or more later. But with the BI solution, I was able to answer the question in minutes.”

Boosts Forecast Accuracy
Business users aren’t just accessing data more quickly; they’re also accessing data that is more accurate, eliminating the time they used to spend correcting data.

“Data accuracy has always been a top priority,” says Schneider. “We have spent hours in test and verification to ensure data accuracy. Because we validate the data in the Microsoft data warehouse before it gets to users, the data is more accurate and reliable.”

Accurate data is better data, of course, but for Ball, there’s also a very practical benefit to greater accuracy. “We see our people relying on the data more because they trust it more,” says Schneider. “That has a big impact on user adoption. If you know that you’ll get good data from the BI system, you’ll go to that system more frequently.”

The people who access data from the BI system aren’t the only ones who trust it more. So do the people they report to. Rogers reports that the quarterly forecasts his team produces now show less variance between actuals and projections than they did before Ball adopted the BI solution.

“Our executives have noticed that the projections are getting more accurate,” says Rogers. “And that’s helped us to increase our value to the executive team.”

Supports Better Decision-Making
Faster and more accurate data is most valuable to Ball because of the ways in which it contributes to better decision-making.

For example, Ball recently worked on the third generation of a satellite program for NASA. The project lead reviewed data that showed that the project’s costs were trending higher than they had at the same point in the production schedules for the previous generations. He began to sense that the project was in trouble. Under other circumstances, this could have led to an attempted midcourse correction in the production process.

But with the BI solution and a data warehouse that hosted data dating back to 2004, the project lead used point-in-time analysis to compare the current work with the previous projects. He analyzed data down to the level of individual worker roles. The result: the higher costs were associated with the faster production of some of the project’s components.

Saves $1 Million in Labor Costs
Ball initiated the data warehouse and BI project to make better use of its data—and it is boosting productivity and saving money as an additional benefit.

One big savings comes in the reorganization of administrative staff who formerly devoted their time to pulling data for the division’s project engineers. Now that those analysts are able to access data more quickly through the new BI tools without assistance, the administrative staff has been reassigned to other parts of the growing company.

“The $1 million in productivity savings that we see is especially valuable to us because it’s in indirect costs that we can eliminate to increase our ability to be cost competitive,” says Rogers. “It may be a small part of the overall benefit we’re getting from the BI system, and helps justify a respectable return on investment. In the future, we expect even greater savings as we adopt the technology across the company and take broader advantage of its capabilities.”

Microsoft Server Product Portfolio
For more information about the Microsoft server product portfolio, go to:

www.microsoft.com/servers

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, 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 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about Neudesic services, call (800) 805-1805 or visit the website at:
www.neudesic.com

For more information about Ball products and services, call (303) 469-3131 or visit the website at:
www.ball.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 14000 employees

Organization Profile

Ball Corporation, based in Broomfield, Colorado, provides metal packaging along with aerospace and other technologies and services to a global market. It employs more than 14,500 people.


Business Situation

As the business at Ball’s aerospace division grew, so did the complexity, expense, and time involved in accessing and analyzing financial and operational measures.


Solution

Ball developed a data warehouse and business intelligence solution based on technologies from Microsoft and Neudesic.


Benefits

  • Delivers business insight in seconds instead of hours
  • Boosts forecast accuracy
  • Supports better decision-making
  • Saves US$1 million in labor costs


Software and Services
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010

Vertical Industries
Automotive, Industrial Equipment & Aerospace

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
Business Intelligence and Reporting

IT Issue
Data Warehousing

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Neudesic

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