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Microsoft: Multichannel Retailer Enriches Data, Saves Money, and Decentralizes Decision Making

20.10.2010

In upgrading its data management software, Studio Moderna sought to better unify data from disparate sources. The company will implement Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise, which works with Microsoft Excel 2010 for business intelligence and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 for collaboration. The new software will consolidate data from multiple IT systems into “one version of the truth,” helping employees make decisions more quickly and reliably. The solution is cost-effective and will help employees do their jobs with less reliance on the IT department.

'Using SQL Server 2008 R2, we can bring even richer information to our users, increasing the speed of decission making. SQL Server 2008 R2 will empower our employees to make decentralized decisions faster.'
- Sandi Češko, Chairman, Studio Moderna

Situation

Begun in 1992 as a direct-marketing company selling a single product in Slovenia, Studio Moderna has expanded to where it now sells thousands of products in 20 Central and Eastern European countries across seven different sales channels. Studio Moderna is an integrated multichannel retailer, reaching a market of almost 400 million potential customers through direct-response television, call centers, Web sites, catalogs, its own retail stores, and retail partners. With headquarters in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the company now has more than 4,000 employees and annual revenues of more than U.S.$400 million.

Aggressive growth in such a complex operation places heavy demands on its IT department, especially because of the company’s philosophy of decentralized decision making. “Our success is based on our ability to shift power to the front line, which requires a highly sophisticated IT system to ensure daily transparent measurability for every decision maker in the company,” says Sandi Češko, Chairman of Studio Moderna. “We have long believed that all information must be digitized and accessible to all employees, including call centers, media-planning departments, sales departments, and stock management departments.”

Studio Moderna believes in the importance of reacting quickly to market conditions. For example, media planners monitor return on investment through various sales channels daily. “To be successful at direct marketing, you have to react in real time,” says Tomaž Gorjup, Chief Information Officer at Studio Moderna. “So if our analysts see that something isn’t going as planned, they need to be able to adjust right away.” To empower such a strategy, data must be transferred daily from all 20 countries to the main data warehouse in Ljubljana and then made available to anyone who needs it.

Studio Moderna has long run its data warehouse with Microsoft SQL Server 2000 and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition data management software. “Employees are satisfied, the database works well, but we know that for scalability and reliability, we need to upgrade,” says Miha Kovač, an Analyst Manager at Studio Moderna.

As part of the upgrade, Studio Moderna wanted to do a better job of unifying data from different areas of the company—such as finance, logistics, and customer relationship management (CRM)—into its product data, presenting it all in a single layer. “When I joined the company eight years ago, we would occasionally lose time trying to sift through versions of data,” Kovač says. “We don’t want to spend time asking which is the correct number, who entered it, or which system it came from. We all want to have access to the same, correct figures.”

Furthermore, Studio Moderna wanted that data to be available not just to IT users but to anyone in the company. “The company has many advanced users of business intelligence tools,” says Kovač. “They’re not satisfied with a single level of data—they like to understand the factors that are driving the data. It’s true not only for analysts but also for managers, who like dashboards but also like to drill into the numbers behind them.” Many managers were using Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 business intelligence software, with 100 additional employees using business intelligence tools from ProClarity (which was acquired by Microsoft in 2006).

Studio Moderna believes attention to data is a key to its success. “One of the biggest sources of value in our company is data about our customers,” says Gorjup. “We want to know our customers better than they know themselves—when they want to buy, what products, through which channel, and so forth. Given how important this data is, our success at managing it in the future will determine how much profit we make.” Studio Moderna wanted new data management software that could help power that success.

'We have long wanted to combine all the data coming from our IT platforms and have it in one spot for analysis. To me, the primary benefit of SQL Server 2008 R2 is that we can achieve this goal of unifying our data.' - Miha Kovač, Analyst Manager, Studio Moderna


Solution

In October 2009, Studio Moderna learned about Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise, which includes powerful new data analysis and reporting features. The company decided to test a beta version of the new software, which works with Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software for business intelligence (BI) and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 for collaboration.

Studio Moderna focused particularly on Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel. With this in-memory technology, which has the familiar Excel 2010 interface, employees can create workbooks that assemble and relate hundreds of millions of rows of data from virtually any source.

With a companion technology, Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft SharePoint, employees can display those same workbooks using Excel Services in SharePoint Server 2010. Now, Studio Moderna can centrally manage all types of reports and workbooks, making them available to top management, project managers, brand managers, and analysts through SharePoint Server 2010.

'We have just two full-time equivalent IT employees to set up the business intelligence using SQL Server 2008 R2 for all of our channels across all 20 countries.'
- Miha Kovač, Analyst Manager, Studio Moderna

Benefits

Studio Moderna will use SQL Server 2008 R2 to consolidate disparate sources into a single set of reliable data, which analysts can use to make quick and effective decisions. The solution will also lower costs and reduce users’ reliance on the IT staff.

Consolidated Data from Disparate Sources

Studio Moderna will use SQL Server 2008 R2 to consolidate data from disparate IT sources such as financial, logistical, and CRM systems. “We have long wanted to combine all the data coming from our IT platforms and have it in one spot for analysis,” says Kovač. “To me, the primary benefit of SQL Server 2008 R2 is that we can achieve this goal of unifying our data.”

With all data available in a single presentation layer, employees can more easily see the bigger picture. “An analyst can look at an issue from the perspective of logistics or finances, among others, without having to pause and find another data source, because it’s all there in SQL Server 2008 R2,” Kovač says.

Single, Accurate View of the Company

Using SQL Server 2008 R2, Studio Moderna employees will all see the same current data. Kovač says, “Everyone will have access to the same data in SQL Server 2008 R2 so we’re not losing time debating where data came from. SQL Server 2008 R2 manages the data flow so all users have the same starting point, one version of the truth.”

That truth will constantly be updated to reflect changing conditions. “As numbers change in the data warehouse, the changes will automatically be updated in all of our models and reports built with SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel—without users having to do anything,” Kovač says.

Quick, Effective Decision Making

Consistent updates to information will help Studio Moderna employees in their decision making. “Using SQL Server PowerPivot for SharePoint and Excel Services in SharePoint Server 2010, our users can share their models, reports, and other business intelligence tools with their colleagues,” Kovač says. “And they have one spot to access those models—one area where all can have access to the same data at the same time.”

Having the same updated information will improve the quality of employees’ decisions. Efficiently managing the complexity of multigeography, multichannel, multiproduct, and multimedia investments can be achieved only with a transparent and unique IT information system that delivers fast and accurate data efficiently. “The data is available to all of our users across the 20 countries where we operate—and it’s sorted in a way that will show those users what’s really happening in the specific markets they care about,” says Gorjup.

“Using SQL Server 2008 R2, we can bring even richer information to our users, increasing the speed of decision making,” says Češko. “SQL Server 2008 R2 will empower our employees to make decentralized decisions faster and more reliably.”

Greater Efficiency

Studio Moderna wants to equip 500–600 users with BI tools. “We have many users who use business intelligence maybe one or two hours a day—for a few reports that are crucial for their jobs,” Kovač says. “From a cost perspective, you hate to burn a license for a full-fledged business intelligence tool for those users. And because they can now view business intelligence workbooks through Excel Services in SharePoint Server 2010 and SQL Server PowerPivot for SharePoint, we won’t have to.”

Thus, Studio Moderna will save money on software licensing. “We had about 100 licenses for ProClarity, running at about €1,000 (U.S.$1,360) apiece. Upgrading licenses for products such as ProClarity would have cost us €100,000” Gorjup says. “With this solution we can expand the use of business intelligence without having to buy additional ProClarity-type licenses. Consolidating our business intelligence on SQL Server 2008 R2, Excel 2010, and SharePoint Server 2010 will save us money.” He is particularly excited that the company is saving this money while increasing employees’ capabilities to use business intelligence. “We plan to decrease costs and still increase penetration of BI reports and functionalities to users who did not previously have access to them.”

Reduced Reliance on IT

Studio Moderna can use SQL Server 2008 R2 to present relevant business information to decentralized decision makers without the involvement of the IT department. “The IT staff has only to manage the transfers,” Kovač says. “It’s the users who analyze the data using SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel and circulate reports on it.” Users become more self-sufficient, “slicing and dicing” crucial information that does not require IT specialists to administer or interpret.

Because the IT department is not involved, the improvements in data analysis will not require increases in IT resources. “With all of our increases in revenues and employees companywide, we have not increased our IT headcount for business intelligence, and we don’t plan to,” says Kovač. “We have just two full-time equivalent IT employees to set up the business intelligence using SQL Server 2008 R2 for all of our channels across all 20 countries.”

The result is that the IT department can achieve its optimal role of servicing infrastructure rather than being involved in day-to-day business operations. “We will use SQL Server 2008 R2 to make data available where people on different business levels can gain access to the information that is relevant to them,” says Češko. “Therefore, nobody needs any reports from the IT department. The IT group is no longer an interface; its responsibilities are maintenance and development. In fact, unless a problem emerges, nobody knows that the IT department exists.”

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 delivers higher scalability for mission-critical environments, more efficient IT, and expanded reporting and analytics through self-service business intelligence.

Read the original story on Microsoft Case Studies, click here.