To remain competitive in the paper-filing supplies market, the Smead Manufacturing Company relies on business intelligence (BI). A Cognos BI solution met basic requirements but was costly, slow, and complicated. Smead plans to deploy a Microsoft BI solution that offers integrated, intuitive tools and speeds cube processing time by 300 percent. The Microsoft solution will save Smead 250 percent on BI-related costs over the next five years.Business Needs
The Smead Manufacturing Company makes and distributes paper-filing supplies such as folders, file boxes, and shelving. Smead also offers presentation and project management supplies; specialized filing solutions for legal, medical, and dental offices; and space-optimization tools for small offices and cubicles. Its products are sold by office-supply stores and other authorized resellers nationwide.
||Because of the Microsoft platform’s 300 percent processing improvement, we can update our data-analysis cubes daily instead of weekly or monthly, which was the best we could manage with Cognos.
Systems Development Manager
Smead Manufacturing Company
Because the paper-filing supplies market faces increasing pressure from digital filing technologies, Smead considers it critical to have access to timely, detailed business intelligence (BI) information. The company uses this information to maintain its competitiveness by reducing inventory costs, improving efficiency, and identifying cost-savings opportunities. Smead also analyzes point-of-sale information as a value-added service for its retail partners.
To accomplish these goals, Smead uses Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Integration Services to extract, transform, and load (ETL) companywide data into a data warehouse based on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data management software. Then, Smead builds analysis cubes and creates reports based on the data by using IBM Cognos 8 Business Intelligence software.
The Cognos solution meets the company’s basic requirements, but it has limitations. For example, because of inflexible licensing, Smead cannot easily share data cubes companywide and must mail them on CDs to regional offices, a time-consuming process that forces decision makers to rely on data as much as one month old. Also, because Cognos is not a highly integrated technology, improving processing speeds or adding new features would require Smead to purchase new modules and licenses.
After IBM acquired Cognos and sharply increased maintenance charges for the technology, Smead began searching for an easy-to-use, more integrated BI solution that included flexible licensing, expanded analysis, and reporting features.Solution
Smead decided to test a new BI solution based on SQL Server 2008 R2 and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. The proof of concept included PerformancePoint Services in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 and SQL Server 2008 R2 Analysis Services, Integration Services, and Reporting Services, Smead worked with RBA Consulting, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner with extensive experience in BI solutions. The Microsoft Technology Center in Minnesota provided architecture and hardware support, and a Microsoft consultant used an HP Business Decision Appliance to help measure performance-test results.
In the proof of concept, the SQL Server 2008 R2 database engine was used for the data warehouse and Integration Services was the ETL tool. OLAP cubes were developed by using Analysis Services, and the tests confirmed that these cubes could be processed in parallel. The cubes were used as data sources for reports developed in Reporting Services. Users could then modify existing reports or create their own by launching Report Builder 3.0 from the SharePoint Server 2010 site. The proof of concept uses PerformancePoint Services 2010 to display key performance indicator information on dashboards and to provide analytical tools such as Decomposition Trees, customizable Top 10 lists, and Drill Across and Drill Down capabilities—all from within an Internet browser.
The three-week proof of concept was successfully concluded in March 2011, and Smead plans to begin replacing Cognos with the new solution in September 2011, with projected completion in June 2012. Daniel Hart, Systems Development Manager at Smead, says that the proof of concept process excited him about working with Microsoft on other projects in the future. “We have a much stronger relationship with Microsoft than we have with IBM,” he explains. “The Microsoft team we worked with really listened to us and is clearly committed to helping us achieve the results we need, as partners.” Benefits
With a Microsoft BI solution, Smead can cut its overall BI costs by 250 percent. Smead decision makers will gain 300 percent faster access to data and, because of the familiarity of Microsoft technology, more users will take advantage of the new tools to obtain useful information from the company’s data.
250 Percent Reduction in BI Costs
A solution based on the Microsoft platform will reduce maintenance and technology costs for Smead. “By switching from Cognos to a Microsoft BI solution, we estimate that we will see a cost decrease of about 250 percent over the next five years,” says Hart. “Because the Microsoft solution is so highly integrated, we will also have access to out-of-the-box capabilities today that would have cost us tens of thousands of dollars more to acquire from Cognos.”
300 Percent Faster Access to Data
The Microsoft solution will significantly speed cube processing. “Because of Cognos license constraints, we have to single-thread the cube processing, but with a Microsoft BI solution, we can multithread this process,” says Hart. “Preliminary results indicate that the Microsoft solution will cut our cube-processing time by at least a factor of 4.” This increase will result in timelier delivery of critical information to decision makers. “Because of the Microsoft platform’s 300 percent processing improvement, we can update our data-analysis cubes daily instead of weekly or monthly, which was the best we could manage with Cognos,” he says. “And with the high processing demands with Cognos, we could only perform those updates on weekends.”
Wider Adoption by Users
The familiar Microsoft environment will be more intuitive for nontechnical employees, increasing adoption. “Licenses for the Cognos reporting tools cost about $1,000 per user, but that money goes to waste because the tools are too complex for most users,” says Hart. “With the Microsoft BI solution, I expect to see an increase in our adoption rate, simply because users won’t be intimidated by the tools.”
Hart is looking forward to deploying the new tools. “Our business users are excited because, although they’d never seen these tools before, they can immediately see how useful they are. I can already tell that the Microsoft BI solution is going to have a big impact on our business.”This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.