Business intelligence gives people within – and sometimes outside – the organisation clear metrics about relevant aspects of its performance. The more complex the organisation, and its customers, suppliers and product structure, the more it needs to provide insight into what is going on.
Andy Pocock, the IT director at newspaper and magazine wholesaler Dawson News, understands these concerns only too well. Dawson handles the distribution of a fifth of the print titles bought in the UK each day at news outlets, trailing only WH Smith and John Menzies. Customers range from behemoths like Tesco to small, independent corner shops.
Any unsold newspapers are returned by the merchants and then pulped by Dawson, with the retailer claiming back from Dawson and Dawson claiming from the publisher. As Pocock says: “We are literally counting money, so the audit has to be watertight.” With return rates usually in single digit percentages for newspapers, but sometimes as much as 50% for magazines, the value of knowing the exact status of the supply chain cannot be underestimated. Similarly, both ends of this supply chain need to be satisfied – on the one hand the publisher who allocates contracts for who it supplies, on the other the retailer who pays for the distribution.
“The data follows the product around the supply chain, from information about the actual product and the business rules governing things like the number of deliveries, to allocation instructions like promotions,” explains Pocock.
But while a lot of that information is shared with business partners, some still want more. Two years ago, Tesco said it needed information from Dawson about impending deliveries, information that, if it had been provided to every company Dawson distributed to would have cost it over £300,000. Instead, the company decided to create the Dawson News Extranet (DNX) to allow both internal employees and external customers to analyse a broad range of key performance indicators (KPIs) such as sales performance and returns figures.
“With both WH Smith and Menzies offering a similar service, ours had to be easy to use, fast and flexible,” says Pocock. “We wanted a common technology stack to make sure there would be no resource constraints in the future because of proprietary tools.” The company has also provided a dashboard to internal salespeople and external publishers and distributors. They can download DNX information onto their systems to consolidate it with data from other wholesalers.
Different levels of information are provided through different dashboard interfaces to different types of people. Executives get access to KPIs with traffic lights and exception reporting; mid-tier information analysts receive trend analyses and supply process improvements; and line managers can scrutinise operational performance.
Pocock’s team has made great steps in making Dawson more transparent. “Publishers can sometimes spot problems faster than we can, because they focus so closely on certain product sets,” he says. “There are benefits to be had at both ends.”
With information distributed up and down the supply chain, businesses have been brought closer together because they can react to each other’s performance more quickly. One magazine distributor says: “We now have access to a system that allows us to interrogate large volumes of data on all of our titles in a timely manner… We have been able to improve the efficiency of a number of our core reporting processes.” By the nature of its business, Dawson knows what the UK reads; it has now shown that providing visibility into that information for managers and suppliers can deliver serious business benefits.