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Business intelligence case study: Suzuki revs up retail reporting

In this business intelligence case study, see how Suzuki Powersports improved the speed and quality of its retail reporting, helped by a metadata layer and Web-based reporting.

Suzuki is ready to open the throttle on its motorcycle and power sports division -- revamping its business intelligence (BI) system just in time for the summer recreation season.

Motorcycles, on- and off-road all-terrain vehicles, and outboard marine engines are the primary products distributed by the Powersports division of Brea, Calif.-based American Suzuki Motor Corp., according to Steve Chavez, credit manager. Until recently, though, the only sales and inventory data many of Suzuki's 1,200 Powersports dealers would see were paper reports faxed or hand-delivered by a district manager on a monthly basis. That made it tough for the dealer and Suzuki to quickly and proactively identify trends or problems.

In a bid to increase dealer sales and profitability, the Powersports division decided to upgrade its BI infrastructure and add Web-based reporting. A major focus was the data integration and delivery platform. Having enough data has never been the problem, Chavez explained.

"We have had many systems and databases in place, but the information hasn't been utilized," he said. "It's been sitting idle. Now, we can utilize that data by consolidating it in reports."

A metadata layer solves integration problems

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 The data in question includes inventory, sales and financial information stored in a few different source systems, Chavez explained. Much of the data is on an AS400 platform in DB2 databases. In the past, the group had relied on canned reports via a green-screen AS400-based system, he said. Later, they moved to a scheme involving DB2 tables and many Microsoft Access implementations -- but that had some scaling problems.

"Microsoft Access is great, but it's not the best solution if you're trying to deploy reports to a large number of people. It just doesn't work -- especially if you're trying to deploy it over the Web," Chavez said.

So the division upgraded to BI and data management applications from South San Francisco-based Actuate Corp., choosing the technology because of its Java development environment, he said. Now, the company uses 16 Actuate applications, including the Information Objects metadata layer, and this has made it easier for the group to create the reports. The metadata layer gives Suzuki a single view of data stored in different relational tables and cubes, acting as a calculation and transformation layer between source systems and the Actuate Web based reporting environment. No data is stored in the metadata layer; instead, enterprise information integration (EII) technology is used to find data when it's needed for a report.

The implementation, which the team did "on and off" in about a year, has gone pretty smoothly, Chavez said. For those contemplating similar projects, he offered some advice.

"First, understand the data very well," he said. "Understand where the data comes from and in what form it exists. If you don't understand that, it will be a huge delay in creating the types of reports that you want."

Web-based reporting benefits

The project wrapped up at the end of 2006, Chavez said, and is slowly being rolled out and fine-tuned. Now, 15 Web-based BI reports are available to selected Suzuki personnel, including corporate employees, sales managers and inventory managers. Early feedback has been very positive, he said. The reports help the company better manage inventory, identify trends, review financial performance and evaluate the performance of dealers. Suzuki has also developed composite reports. These enable managers to compare dealer performance with regional or national averages. And, notably, Suzuki sales managers can now easily access Web reports on a daily basis and pass them on to dealers via email.

The new BI technology has helped the company make much better use of its data, Chavez said. Though it's too early to know the actual ROI of the system, he said, Suzuki has two main goals.

"The first goal is to sell more products by helping dealers understand their strengths and weaknesses. The second goal is dealer profitability," Chavez said.

Information from the reports could lead Suzuki to sell or close a dealership if it's not profitable. Despite that, Chavez thinks that dealers don't feel threatened by the new Web reporting system -- quite the opposite, in fact. Though the dealers can't access the system directly, they will get to see some of the reports it generates, which could offer valuable information for their businesses.

"When you're providing information that the dealers don't have, and that information is presented in a positive way, they appreciate that," Chavez said. "Good businessmen know that if it can help them make money and sell more product, that's a good thing."

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