Petroleum distributor gains better decision making and faster ROI with BI solution
Reliance Petroleum is Australia’s largest distributor of BP and Castrol products. Its 2,500 employees manage an extensive network of bulk fuel and lubricant depots, delivery vehicles, and service stations. Following a merger in 2007, Reliance Petroleum introduced new ustomer relationship management (CRM) and intranet systems with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. However, the company still needed to integrate data from multiple systems and make that data available to all business users. With the assistance of Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Oakton, Reliance Petroleum deployed a data warehouse solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2. It includes enhanced data integration, reporting and analysis. By using SQL Server 2008 R2, Reliance Petroleum has cost-effectively extended business intelligence capabilities to field staff and improved decision–making by sales staff, managers and executives.
One of Australia’s largest companies, Reliance Petroleum has grown following the takeover of several key BP Petroleum distributors. The company now operates over 200 BP service stations and nearly 60 gofuel (24-hour refuelling) locations for the retail sector, along with 70 bulk fuel and lubricant depots for the industrial, mining, transportation and retail sectors. It is currently the second largest privately owned company in Australia, with annual revenue in excess of AUD$3 billion (US$2.618 billion).
Following these takeovers, Reliance Petroleum inherited a range of different IT systems. These had to be united if the company was to make the efficiency savings on which the takeovers were based.
“The same sort of data came from different sources and software platforms,” says Peter Gray, Service Delivery Manager, Business Technology, Reliance Petroleum. “Often people would run reports or look at sets of numbers that wouldn’t line up, but nobody could actually explain why they weren’t lining up.”
In addition, some data was outdated by the time it got to the people who needed it. Sales teams, for example, would only get monthly sales data, which limited their ability to react quickly to new trends.
Our employees can use Microsoft Office Excel – a tool that they are very familiar with – to analyse data in ways they’ve never been able to before. And they can do this without the company having to pay for training."
Peter Gray, Service Delivery Manager, Business Technology, Reliance Petroleum
The company decided to stabilise its information environment by standardising on one database platform. In mid-2008, the company deployed Microsoft SQL Server 2005, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Its objective was to provide cross-business customer data to support the commercial sales team and a new telesales division, as well as an intranet to unite the company and help staff share information.
However, the fact that data was generated in diverse systems meant that the SQL Server database could not by itself collate and manage all the data the business wanted.
“With our numerous existing applications, it was difficult to share and report on even the most basic sales and customer data,” says Gray. “To make business intelligence (BI) available to everyone within the company in a cost-effective manner, we needed to integrate data from each different data source, and then introduce new reporting and analysis services.”
For internal reporting, the head office at Reliance Petroleum used the IBM Cognos BI platform, but the licensing fees prevented the company from rolling it out to field staff such as managers of depots and retail service stations.
Having established a single repository for data with SQL Server 2005, IT staff faced the challenge of finding a way to feed data into it from all parts of the business, integrating the data and making it available and valuable to everyone in the company. Reliance Petroleum explored whether a data warehousing approach might work. This would provide staff with data that was consistent, integrated and consolidated.
In late 2009, Reliance Petroleum brought in Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Oakton, to see whether an SQL-based data warehouse was feasible. To see whether this approach could satisfactorily integrate data from across the business, Oakton decided to build a prototype.
“It is important to use a proof of concept to make sure that the new system can meet the business requirements, and to validate the business case,” says Hugh Rogers, Business Intelligence Practice Manager, Oakton. “With the proof of concept, we could establish the facts to underpin the business case for a fully integrated data warehouse.”
Oakton’s proof of concept comprised Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Integration Services, which extracts, transforms and loads (ETL) data from underlying source systems into SQL Server 2008 R2. This technology combines data from a wide array of sources, including custom-built programs such as Petrolink, the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system at Reliance Petroleum.
In addition, the company used Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services with the Active Directory service and Office SharePoint Server 2007. This meant employees could log on to the company’s intranet and view dashboards and standard reports specific to their job role.
Reliance Petroleum staff also used Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services to create online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes. These multidimensional data structures are particularly useful for analysing large amounts of information.
Following the successful trial of the proof of concept in late 2009, Reliance Petroleum replaced its existing IBM Cognos BI software with SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services and SQL Server 2008 R2 Analysis Services. The company merged its data through the ETL process using SQL Server 2008 R2 Integration Services and organised it within the data warehouse.
Now Reliance Petroleum has a single source for all data used by the company. To help manage that data, Reliance Petroleum subsequently deployed a new feature of the SQL Server – Master Data Services – which ensures that the data within the data warehouse is always correctly organised and can be centrally managed.
With a data warehousing system based on SQL Server 2008 R2, Reliance Petroleum can extend business analysis capabilities to field staff in more than 300 retail service stations. The company has been able to reduce costs, improve business insight and speed up decision making.
Reduced licensing and training costs
Detailed reporting capabilities have been extended to more staff within the company, while containing – and in some cases reducing – the costs of extracting, sorting, and accessing the data.
“We couldn’t have done this cost-effectively with our previous system,” says Gray. “By using SQL Server 2008 R2 Reporting Services and SQL Server 2008 R2 Analysis Services, we achieved a return on investment – purely on licensing cost savings.”
“Another key cost benefit is familiarity,” says Gray. “Our employees can use Microsoft Office Excel – a tool that they are very familiar with – to analyse data in ways they’ve never been able to before. And they can do this without the company having to pay for training.”
Better sales intelligence
Because information is updated daily rather than monthly, sales staff can make business decisions with greater speed and agility.
“Now our sales teams can review everything up to the previous day’s trading,” says Gray. “They find it much easier to analyse buying behaviors and patterns, such as what customers are buying and where they are buying it from.”
“BI with SQL Server 2008 R2 will really make a difference in the way we manage our retail sales business,” Gray adds. “By managing our retail business very tightly, we hope to make bottom-line savings.
During 2010, we’ll continue to expand the information that’s available in our data warehouse environment to include our logistics information, general ledger, financial reporting, credit information, stock information, and more detailed retail reporting and analysis.”