Tea and Scones with Power BI

Tea and Scones with Power BI
In today’s competitive climate, there are few companies that can’t benefit from a powerful BI solution…even in the franchise food service industry.
BlackBall is a tea and dessert company based in Taipei, Taiwan. Established in 2006, BlackBall has expanded from 20 stores in Taiwan to 40 more locations throughout Malaysia. To support regional growth, BlackBall wanted better insight into business operations.
Each store sent point-of-sale (POS) data to the corporate headquarters, where managers manually entered the information into spreadsheets. They also monitored other sources such as social media, but it was difficult to make connections between the disparate sources of information. “Our main challenge involved reporting,” says Andrew Cheong, Senior Manager at BlackBall. “There were a lot of questions that we were just unable to ask about customer behavior. Without insight into regional demand, it’s very difficult to grow our business.”
In addition to wanting to more targeted promotions, the company wanted to improve product distribution. BlackBall had built its reputation on the quality of its highly perishable ingredients, and getting them to the right place at the right time was critical to the company’s success. “We use a lot of fruits in our desserts, and if they don’t taste right, then we lose our competitive advantage,” says Cheong.
After looking at a variety of BI tools, BlackBall asked Fusionex, Malaysia’s Microsoft Country Partner of the Year for two years running, to help implement a hybrid cloud solution.
In May 2013, BlackBall began a proof of concept with HDInsight Service that integrates unstructured data from the company’s Facebook page and online weather reports with information pulled from POS systems in the Malaysian stores. To work with the data, BlackBall employees use a web-based interface created by Fusionex. The interface includes a dashboard built with Power View, an interactive data visualization tool in Microsoft SQL Server 2012.
BlackBall offers more than 70 products, and constantly works on developing new ingredients and combinations. By monitoring customer feedback on social media as well as sales data, the company can plan more strategically. For example, BlackBall is using the information to develop new products and execute more effective promotions. “We have a much better understanding of what people want,” says Cheong. “We also found that our marketing can be vastly improved because we can quickly identify top-selling products and push that information out to each store. We used to only be able to do that on a weekly basis, but now we can do that in near-real time.” By working with the tool, BlackBall employees can immediately correlate sales data with regional weather patterns and social media feedback.
The company is already gaining surprising insights that it can use to improve product distribution and marketing. For example, BlackBall expected to see that the weather affected sales; however, the results were not what it anticipated. “Before, we thought that people would choose cold drinks and desserts in hot weather,” says Cheong. “But contrary to our assumptions, in certain outlets we saw an opposite trend.” As a result, the company can ensure that those outlets are equipped with the staff and supplies needed to meet customer demand.
With a hybrid cloud solution from Fusionex and Microsoft, BlackBall can gain valuable new insight without investing in additional on-premises infrastructure. As a result, the company can stay focused on enhancing its own products instead of managing technology. “I looked at some of the other BI solutions on the market, and most were overly complex, especially from an end-user point of view,” says Cheong. “In contrast, a Fusionex solution based on a Microsoft Big Data platform with BI tools such as Power View is very easy to use. It’s both powerful and accessible.”