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Clothing company benefits from speed of modern BI reporting tools

One clothing manufacturer found out that today's BI reports can be produced with a minimum of ETL and other processes that have traditionally slowed down BI.

Modern BI reporting tools are all about speed.

That's the lesson recently learned by Arc'teryx Equipment, an outerwear manufacturer and retailer based in North Vancouver, B.C. The company recently overhauled a reporting system that helps identify potential locations for new retail stores. The initial goal was to make the process more automated. It has since turned BI tasks that once took hours into much quicker jobs.

"It's been massive time savings," said William Jackson, manager of business intelligence at Arc'teryx.

The new system is built around Qlik Sense, software from QlikTech. The team also assessed software from Tableau and Microstrategy, but settled on Qlik because the vendor was willing to help Arc'teryx work through a proof-of-concept project prior to purchase. It also leverages the data market offered by Qlik, a prepopulated and formatted list of data sources. From this market Arc'teryx pulls in data about local weather trends and economic indicators for specific regions and combines it with its own sales data. From this data the BI team builds reports that assess locations where the company is considering expanding, looking for areas that match up with typical customer demographics.

Prior to implementing Qlik Sense, these reports were created through a combination of SAP Crystal Reports and IBM Cognos. Data was pulled from web sources. But Jackson said the process of collecting data and putting it through the necessary extract, transform and load processes could take hours, which made it hard to get insights into the hands of the executives.

"We were doing this previously, but it was a lot of scraping data from the internet manually," he said. "Because you're pulling all that data from all these sources, you can't be sure of the consistency."

Most employees have embraced the new BI reporting tools. It helps that most of the workers have youthful attitudes and are generally ready to take on new technologies, particularly ones that can save them time, Jackson said.

Users have also taken to the sandboxing feature of the new software, Jackson said. Each report that Jackson and his team put out comes with a separate tab containing a blank workspace. This allows users to play around with the data in the report, test out new ways of looking at it or see if combining different variables or data sets into one view makes sense. They can do this without disturbing the predefined reports Jackson's team puts out. Periodically the BI team meets with business users to see if there's anything they regularly build in this workspace that might be worth institutionalizing.

Another key factor in getting strong adoption of the new way of doing things was executive support. The company's leaders liked the ability to drill down into reports and the speed with which they were able to get insights, Jackson said. Once they picked up the tool, the rest of the workforce followed.

"Because we had the buy-in at the executive level, it drove adoption through the organization," Jackson said. 

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