Extending business intelligence to customers and suppliers

How Staples Australia is transforming its business through information transparency.

Be nimble, be agile, take risks, and apply innovation to how you’re using data in your business. It’s a fairly ambitious goal, but it’s one that Garry Whatley, VP of IT and Business Services for Staples Australia, believes is a matter of perspective. You either focus on the risk or you focus on the strategic advantage. Whatley is a proponent of the latter.

“Our end goal is to provide information transparency to our customers and suppliers, so we can make better business decisions collectively,” says Whatley. “That goal drove our transformation program, where we implemented a new hardware platform to support a new business intelligence (BI) software suite. Our BI vision is very defined, and we invested in it substantially because it is strategic to how we’re going to operate as the business moves forward.”

The value of data access and analytics
Unlike its parent company in the U.S., Staples Australia does not have any retail locations. It engages with customers online or through its sales force. In both instances, sophisticated data transparency creates an opportunity to alter business processes significantly. Whatley believes that in a high volume, high data business like Staples’, enabling data access and analytics is of extreme value in delivering the insight necessary to drive costs out of the supply chain.

  • To build the hardware foundation for data transparency, Staples Australia chose the Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®) to support its SAP NetWeaver BW investment.
  • The company also implemented the Cisco Business Warehouse Accelerator to amplify the speed of its SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator to drive faster queries, reporting, and decision making.

The Cisco implementation was consistent with Whatley’s emphasis on strategic advantage. As Corporate Express (prior to the Staples integration), the company was an early adopter of many new Cisco technologies including Cisco IP telephony solutions and Cisco Unified Contact Center as well as previous iterations of Cisco UCS®. Whatley wanted to maintain the strategic commitment to the Cisco relationship.

So was the strategic gamble worth it? Whatley believes it was.

“Both the Cisco UCS and SAP choices were sound strategic decisions that I would make again,” he says. “In fact, we should have done it sooner. Our users were frustrated with performance, and we have reversed that experience significantly. Now, we are in a position to not only deliver performance, but also drive toward our vision as well.”

The hardware and software investments have been fundamental in helping Staples be agile and react to insight gleaned from the data. For example, supply chain operations can gather metrics about supplier performance, helping to build a supplier performance ranking against KPIs and other suppliers.

  • On a monthly basis, Staples provides the Supplier Performance Reporting Pack to its suppliers. Previously, completing those reports required a significant amount of manual effort. With automation, Staples can provide visibility around performance levels to the more than 300 suppliers in its supply chain.
  • In addition, data transparency is enhancing inventory management. Staples can calculate daily performance on KPIs for the purchasing team, operations team, and the overall business based on day-to-day order fulfillment and the company’s “perfect order” model. The ongoing insight is improving customer service levels and reducing inventory holding.

Driving toward its future vision
With the foundation in place, Staples can contemplate adding new capabilities to drive its future vision.

  • Mobility is a key priority. With no retail presence, the company relies heavily on its sales force to service corporate and mid-market customers.
  • Pushing order information and online reporting to reps while at customer sites is a primary focus.
  • Executive insight enablement is also critical. In a high volume, low value business model, having the visibility to track the business with fine detail on a daily basis promotes better business decisions.

In fact, Staples is about to launch a pilot focused on reviewing and analyzing customer sales history. With a BI view, business users can examine factors including what customers spend, where they spend, categories of spend, and which areas of the business spend more than others. It is similar to the breakdowns of paper reports, but the automation enables drill down, discussion, analysis, and what-if scenarios on the fly.

“Clarity in what you’re driving toward is what enables you to move away from a risk focus to a strategic orientation,” says Whatley. “At Staples, we are clear that mobile BI and real-time analytics represent our optimum data transparency capabilities. And we have the hardware and software foundation to move there confidently—delivering the value of visibility to our customers and suppliers for better business decisions every step of the way.”

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