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Posted: 9/24/2012
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Centric Group Niche Market Supplier Improves BI, Speeds Performance, and Cuts TCO

Centric Group, a leading supplier of consumer and hospitality products, wanted to improve operations with easier access to business data. To provide employees with better analytical and reporting tools, the company replaced an existing Oracle platform with business intelligence (BI) solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2012. As a result, the company is making better business decisions, cutting reporting time from hours to seconds, and reducing its maintenance costs by two-thirds.

Business Needs

Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Centric Group is a leading supplier of products and services for correctional-facility commissaries, and the retail and hospitality industries. To improve operations, the company wanted to give employees easier access to business data. Employees often needed more than a week to compile information, and Centric Group realized it needed better analytical and reporting tools.

First, the company tried implementing a data warehouse and BI solution based on Oracle products, but that also had drawbacks. “We needed faster performance,” says Pete Williams, Manager of Data Systems at Centric Group. “It took a long time to analyze the data through reports, and the user interface wasn't consistent across all the applications.”

Performance and usability were not the only challenges, however. The existing solution, which had taken more than a year to implement, was also costly and difficult to manage. “We needed two different presentation platforms,” says Williams. “We required a set of servers for transactional reporting and another set to give us business analytics. Additionally, the resource pool was limited and expensive, and the solution didn’t plug into our existing Microsoft infrastructure.”

Centric Group decided to look for a new solution that would improve functionality while reducing management costs and complexity.

Solution

The company was already using Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, which it decided to combine with Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise software to create a new data warehouse and BI solution. “I was really intrigued by the performance gains in SQL Server 2012,” says Jim O’Brien, Director of IT Operations at Centric Group. “There is less reliance on disk I/O, which eliminates a lot of bottlenecks.”

Centric Group also wanted to take advantage of enhanced BI capabilities. “Ease of use was something we were looking for,” says Williams. “The new features in SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services, including the new BI Semantic Model, give us what we need.”

O’Brien and his team began designing the solution in February 2012, and it went into production in less than four months. The Microsoft BI platform, which runs on the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise operating system, operates on half the number of servers required by the previous environment. It also works easily with multiple data sources, including an Oracle enterprise resource planning system, a web-based order-entry site, and external systems operated by partners.

Employees currently use Microsoft SQL Server 2012 PowerPivot for Excel to look at the data, which includes sales, inventory, purchasing, and financial information. The company plans to introduce more BI features, including SQL Server 2012 Power View, an interactive data visualization tool in SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services. O’Brien says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to add new features and dashboards, so that people can start driving more decisions with metrics and key performance indicators.”

Benefits

With a Microsoft BI solution, Centric Group can make better business decisions, increase performance by gaining real-time access to information, and cut maintenance costs by two-thirds.

Improves Business Decisions
Centric Group is using the Microsoft BI solution to make better business decisions that affect processes such as supply-chain management and forecasting. “We’re starting to find opportunities that we didn’t know existed before,” says O’Brien. “With tools like SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel, we can take a detailed look at market segments and profit margins and see what’s going to have a big impact on revenue. We finally have the insight we need for much more accurate forecasting, so planning is easier.”

The company reports that employees have adapted quickly to the new tools. “We’re taking advantage of capabilities like exception reporting,” says Williams. “For example, a purchasing agent who has to manage 200 items can just pull up a global operations report and look at the top and bottom 5 percent. Then, if necessary, the agent can drill down to see the order history of individual customers.”

Boosts Performance
In addition to making data more accessible for Centric Group employees, the new solution has also improved performance. “Having better decision-making tools at their fingertips saves employees a significant amount of time,” says O’Brien. “Instead of sifting through weeks’ worth of data to react after the fact, they’re now using SQL Server 2012 PowerPivot for Excel to get real-time information and make decisions immediately.”

In the past, employees would have to wait hours to schedule and run reports. “In our previous systems, a single report might take anywhere from two minutes to two hours to run,” says O’Brien. “We had people spending half their day generating reports that they can now get in seconds with SQL Server 2012.”

Lowers Maintenance Costs by Two-Thirds
The company is also lowering its total cost of ownership with SQL Server 2012 by saving on licensing, labor, and server infrastructure costs. “For a typical Oracle BI implementation, I would need to hire a specialized business analyst, a data architect, a dedicated database administrator, and at least three report writers,” says Williams. “With a Microsoft BI solution and SQL Server 2012, we managed to do all of that with just one BI specialist, two report writers, and our corporate SQL Server DBA.”

Built-in capabilities cut costs further. “With SQL Server 2012, I’m spending about a third of what I would spend maintaining our prior system,” says O’Brien. “I don’t have to run separate tools to perform data analysis and run transaction-based reports. I can capitalize on my existing investment and use just one product.”

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



Organization Size: 2300 employees

Organization Profile

Centric Group is a leading supplier of products and services for multiple markets, including correctional-facility commissaries, retail stores, and hotels.


Software and Services
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise
  • Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services

Vertical Industries
Specialty Retail

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
Business Intelligence and Reporting

Languages
English

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