Business intelligence implementations typically involve some dauntingly complex integration work, as organisations tie together their numerous sources of information into one reliable whole.
But just as great a challenge can be persuading employees to use a BI system, once it has been painstakingly pieced together.
So when British American Tobacco sought to tie its global operations together a with single BI structure, the multinational cigarette company’s global head of IT delivery Eddie Short knew that its chosen system had to appeal to users. “There are a million and one ways you can deliver a dashboard," he says, "but what is important is that we employ solutions our people actually want to use."
It may be surprising to some that BAT turned in 2008 to SAP – a company better known for the comprehensive nature of its software than for its usability – to meet this need.
The overall aim of the BI project was to help BAT, whose 300 cigarette brands include Lucky Strike, Dunhill and Pall Mall, “go from a federated business model to being a global enterprise”, Short recalls. That meant asserting common definitions of logical entities across the enterprise, which was itself no mean feat.
“One of the biggest problems we had at BAT is the definition of what is a sale,” Short says, explaining that there was some disparity across the business over the exact point during a transaction when a sale becomes revenue. “What was a sale of one brand in one market was completely different with another brand in a different market.”
To begin with, the company rolled out BI analytics for its global supply chain functions, before also implementing it for group finance and marketing. Thanks to these global rollouts, Short says, BAT is now able to compare “like for like” in terms of sales and revenue data across its departments.
Perhaps most importantly, BAT’s large scale BI implementation has helped the company to understand "who are the key information owners, what are the opportunities and issues around their function, and how data links to the key business outcomes they are trying to drive”, Short says.
And what about adoption? Short reports that some employees were reluctant to switch from their Excel spreadsheets – and the individually curated information within them – in favour of the SAP system. The solution was simple enough: BAT has banned the use of the Microsoft spreadsheet software from all executive meetings.