In-memory analytics, business intelligence rocks at Superior Graphite

An in-memory business intelligence platform proved the right antidote to a long, expensive and failing business intelligence project.

This business intelligence (BI) saga started with an all-too-familiar story.

The president of Superior Graphite Co. wanted a BI dashboard, so he hired a consultant. Cut to 18 months and six figures later -- and there was still no dashboard, according to Michael Korin, chief information officer of the Chicago-based company, which produces engineered carbon-based products for industrial applications. So the president told Korin, "OK, you do it." Korin willingly met the challenge.

The first goal of the multi-phase project was a graphical representation of gross sales and open orders in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, ideally viewable by month, division or region. Korin began exploring his BI options and met with Radnor, Pa.-based QlikTech, recently named by IDC as the fastest-growing BI vendor for the third year in a row. The company developed QlikView, a BI application suite that uses in-memory processing. But Korin cut the official QlikView presentation short in favor of trying out the software himself.

"I took the evaluation copy home," Korin said, "and in about four hours, I had finished Phase 1 of the project, which the consultant never got done."

He was able to design a BI application so quickly in part because QlikView's architecture is different from that of other platforms. It doesn't require pre-built online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes. Instead, it enables in-memory manipulation and analysis of data. Not having to develop OLAP cubes saves significant development time, Korin said.

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After his successful proof of concept, Korin officially deployed QlikView on a single HP server. It pulls data once daily from ERP systems, many Lotus Notes databases and a few other source systems. After successfully meeting the first deliverable, he moved on to Phase 2, a daily report on gross sales and forecast-to-budget numbers. Around this time, the finance group saw the project and requested a new BI application with their data. Korin delivered it in about two weeks, with the help of QlikTech's consultants. Then came Phase 3, the president's dashboard, which took only a few weeks of manpower , Korin said. Now, the president can better understand data from various systems without having to pore over text reports.

"It's easier for him to see the data graphically, and it's easier to slice and dice information quickly, which he couldn't do with text," Korin said. "It gives him a lot more flexibility, and he's a visual person, so this works well for him."

Superior Graphite's new BI tools have required very little training because QlikView's user interface is very intuitive, Korin said. Users can click on any charts they see to drill down into the data and explore reports, and it's easy to sort and view data.

"If it takes more than 10 minutes of training, then the user is not paying attention," Korin said.

Though Korin has not officially calculated an ROI for the project, it's been well received by management. Now, the president can quickly identify potentially costly problems with customers or financial trends, he said. And the entire system was deployed primarily with all internal resources and minimal time.

"The benefits of this tool are ease-of-use, flexibility, speed and the lack of consultant time needed to make the applications," Korin said. "I can make them myself instead of spending $100,000 on a consultant."

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