When the ABB Italy subsidiary of manufacturer ABB wanted to update one of its business intelligence (BI) tools, it adopted Microsoft Power BI for Office 365. The company has slashed the time to generate reports by as much as a month, so it can
conduct faster, fuller analyses. It also creates highly visual reports that enable deeper insights. By freeing up the time formerly needed for reports, the enterprise is more efficient, too.
What’s a state-of-the-art business intelligence application?
A few years ago, one of the five global divisions of the industrial giant ABB wanted just such an application to support country-specific business and market analyses in many of the 100 countries in which it does business. The state of the global economy
was certainly a factor shaping the sales of the company’s industrial motors, drives, generators, and power-grid equipment. But so were a host of more localized factors, such as the extent of competition within a given country as well as the nation’s gross
domestic product and employment rate.
ABB wanted an application that its marketing managers, business analysts, and others could use to identify the market opportunities and challenges in their specific national markets. Not finding what it wanted in a commercial software package, ABB created
its own solution.
The division’s Market Data Repository (MDR) application was state of the art until, a few years later, it wasn’t. What had changed? User expectations—and a state-of-the-art application had to meet them.
“Our users are more tech-savvy than they were a few years ago,” says Massimiliano Cimnaghi, IS Technology Manager at ABB Italy, which manages the application. “They use mobile phones, shop on websites—and expect the tools they use at work, including BI,
to be as easy to understand, and as fast and simple to use, as their personal technologies.”
But MDR hadn’t been designed to meet this standard. Users could work relatively easily with available reports but, when they wanted new reports, they needed to go through an ABB Italy IT liaison to the company’s external IT supplier. The expensive process
of report creation could take up to four weeks.
That process also produced reports that were both heavy on statistical tables and short on highly visual data representations that would provide faster and keener insights into the data. Those insights, in turn, were essential to the better, more competitive
decision-making that ABB needed to maintain and expand its position in target markets.
||With Microsoft Power BI, the insights just come faster.
| Massimiliano Cimnaghi
IS Technology Manager
In 2010, the company’s Mediterranean region had made a strategic decision to move to Microsoft BI. As a result, ABB Italy had already begun to migrate its data management solutions to Microsoft SQL Server 2012 software, with Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis
“Microsoft makes sense as our BI supplier,” says Cimnaghi. “We have more skills in its technologies than in any other. Microsoft is competitive in business intelligence and invests heavily in this area, enhancing its BI platform on a regular basis. This
makes us confident that Microsoft is the right partner for BI.”
So, it was natural that the company would be interested in the newest member of the Microsoft BI platform: Microsoft Power BI for Office 365. Part of the highly popular Microsoft Office 365 cloud-based business productivity suite, it works through familiar
Excel spreadsheet software.
Power BI includes four key tools:
ABB Italy conducted a proof of concept in which it integrated a pre-release version of the Power BI service with its MDR application, and later put the solution into production. Marketing managers and business analysts working with the application use Power
Query to identify and access particular data sets on the company’s intranet, which runs on Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 software. They also use Power Query to access external, publicly available data sets.
They then use Power Pivot to view the data according to easily changed parameters and filters. So, for example, managers can compare the effect of economic changes on ABB sales and those of its competitors.
If ABB Italy moves MDR to the cloud, managers will also be able to query the data using natural language rather than technical scripts. “That’s an amazing feature we’d really like to exploit,” says Cimnaghi. He and his colleagues were even more impressed
with the visual reports they created using Power Map. A key Power Map report, for example, shows ABB market share by country and makes distinctions easy to spot and explore.
ABB already supports collaboration among its workers through Microsoft Yammer, and Cimnaghi envisions the integration of Power BI and Yammer at ABB so that employees can share their analyses and work together to refine and expand them.
ABB Italy uses Power BI to meet user expectations for modern, engaging software, to speed analyses by as much as a month, and to boost efficiency throughout the enterprise.
Meets Worker Expectations for Powerful Insights
ABB Italy wanted a BI tool that met the expectations of its tech-savvy workforce. It has that tool in MDR with Power BI, according to Cimnaghi. “The software that our employees use at work has to be as good as or better than the software they use in their
personal lives. Microsoft Power BI meets this standard.”
As a result, the company expects the adoption of MDR with Power BI to be high. “There’s a lot of interest around Microsoft Power BI because we can use it to create very powerful reports,” Cimnaghi says. “When you put market data on a Power BI map, you can
easily spot not only which countries are performing better, but also which ones have best practices that we should copy and which we should target for improvement. With Microsoft Power BI, the insights just come faster.”
Can Create Custom Reports in Hours
ABB Italy is also using Power BI to free up internal IT resources and eliminate its dependency on outside IT suppliers to provide reports. Managers and analysts no longer wait up to a month for BI reports; instead, they can create their own reports, generally
within a few hours. They also save money formerly spent to generate the reports, and that means they can generate more of them.
“Before, you really thought twice before ordering a custom report and sometimes you didn’t do it,” says Alessandra Gilberti, BI Manager for ABB Italy. “That means you didn’t always have all the insights that would have been most helpful in making a decision.
Now, if you have a question, you can use Power BI to find the answer. There’s no barrier between you and the analysis you want to perform.”
Spurs Enterprise Efficiency
Faster reports also have a practical benefit for ABB, according to Cimnaghi. “When you can generate insights so much faster, the whole organization becomes more efficient,” Cimnaghi says. “You’re not tied down to doing the analyses. You can spend time on
the activities that are most important for the company.”
This case study is for informational purposes only.