How Visual Analytics is Empowering users at Marico and Other Enterprises

Visual Analytics tools are doing what the Graphical User Interfaces did for PCs -- making it simple for everyone to use analytics. Here are some examples:

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Photo Credit : Tableau,

Visual Analytics

Business Intelligence and Data Analytics tools are today’s differentiators for business. Enterprises that learn to harness their data for insights have a competitive advantage. But to do this, they need the right data strategy -- and the right tools. All users in the organisation should have the capability to ‘massage’ their data and get insights. Five years ago, that seemed like a very difficult proposition. There were tools, but these were expensive and not easy to implement. What’s more, the IT team had to get down to coding (a time consuming and laborious task) every time someone in the organisation asked for something specific from the data. Today it is a lot easier to get insights from data, thanks to a new breed of Visual Analytics tools.

Let’s take the case of Marico, an FMCG major that is present in more than eight countries. It sells its products to distributors who then sell it to retailers before it gets to consumers. The chain is more complex when selling to consumers in rural areas. Marico needed to have business insights into this value chain, which has all its data acquisition systems. The ‘Indian MNC’ has also been deploying mobility systems internally since 2003 for its sales force, and these systems also generate a lot of data. It faced a huge problem in 2012: How could it derive insights from all that data collected over a period of 10 – 12 years? After all, important business decisions had to be made based on that data.

Girish Rao, Head IT & Business Analytics, Marico said, “We had gone live with SAP in the year 2000 and by 2012 we had lots of data, but no information. The decision makers were not able to take any decisions based on this data. Around that time, analytics was a buzzword and our MD read how analytics could save time and money. He approached me and insisted we should use analytics.”

At that point, Rao was faced with two options: He debated over developing another portal and in-house tool to mine all that data (time-consuming). The other option was to buy an off-the-shelf product (expensive). Marico eventually created a stack called MUSIX (Marico Unified Systems Information Exchange).

“We had SAP, SQL Server, and external sources (of data) such as IMRB and offtake data from agencies. To get full visibility of the entire chain, you have to not only consider your data, but also data from external sources,” said Rao.

To do this, the data from various sources had to be consolidated and stored in a data warehouse. In technical terms, this process is called ETL (Extract, Transform, Load). Once that was done, sets of data were transferred to data marts. Only then could users at Marico use visualization tools to get insights from that data.

“We faced two challenges: Aggregating all the data and then applying visualization tools. We adopted Pentaho (a business intelligence tool), Vectorwise (an SQL relational database management system), and we used Tableau for data visualization,” informed Rao.

THE CHALLENGE

According to Rao, the entire implementation process took just two months in 2013. He said the bigger challenge was convincing users about the benefits of analytics, and the utility of the visualization tool for insights. Rao and his team built proof of concept use cases for each department within the organisation. They demonstrated the effectiveness of the tool in terms of decision making, time savings, increase in turnover, and direct business impact (benefits). They then scaled it up from a small prototype to a larger prototype involving more users. Eventually, there was a full scale roll out across the organization.

“Back then SAP and Business Objects were the choice for business intelligence; we came across Tableau quite by accident. With the other tools, you had to do some coding, and could not use them immediately. But with Tableau, it was a click and drop affair, so the effort required to develop something specific to your organisation is far less,” said Rao. “Tableau could be given to the end-users and they could use it with minimal training. Back in 2012-13, users had the capability to play around with their data and get insights. That was the main driver for selecting Tableau. It gave freedom to the end user to leverage data.”

Integration with numerous data sources and predictive modelling was another capability of Tableau that caught Rao’s attention.

Deepak Ghodke, Country Manager, Tableau India says he has customers in India such as HDFC Bank, Ashok Leyland, Marico, Eveready Industries, EClerx, CRIF High Mark, Star Health & Allied Insurance and others.

“HDFC Bank has 80,000 users. The Bank had collected huge amounts of data from various data sources but they could drive very little insights from that data. The business liaison team wanted to create an application to draw the data and give it to users. They tried Tableau with a smaller set of HNI (high net worth individuals) customers.  That project was successful and it was later tried with other businesses and customers. Beginning with 500 users on Tableau they quickly grew to 20,000 users,” said Ghodke.

He says Eveready has been using Tableau for 3+ years. Their usage is focused on marketing and supply chain.

“Eveready did the implementation on their own and have seen an ROI of 500 per cent,” informed Ghodke.

Ashok Leyland used Tableau visual analytics for their warranty case studies. According to Ghodke, their measurement of success (KPIs) was to count the number of insights derived from the analytics solution.



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