Total clarity: Timely reports, data flexibility power up business intelligence

Upper management at CLARCOR Air Filtration Products has good data, but making it easily accessible is no small task when that data must be extracted, sorted, analyzed, and presented to the right people in the right format. That's why CLARCOR chose to implement a business intelligence (BI) and enterprise performance management system from Bitam, which is accessed by nearly 30 users.


Upper management at CLARCOR Air Filtration Products has good data, but making it easily accessible is no small task when that data must be extracted, sorted, analyzed, and presented to the right people in the right format.

That's why CLARCOR chose to implement a business intelligence (BI) and enterprise performance management system from Bitam , which is accessed by nearly 30 users. The system allows CLARCOR to monitor key performance indicators, examine root causes of problems, and measure the progress of strategic initiatives.

“We can drill down to see why certain things occurred, because with 12 plants it's difficult to get that kind of individual information quickly from our headquarters,” says Tony Ferens, plant controller for the Louisville, Ky.-based subsidiary of CLARCOR.

“We can access efficiency data and break it down by product category, by shift, or product line,” adds Ferens. “Plant managers can see, for example, that Shift One was 90-percent efficient, but Shift Two was 98-percent efficient. They can look up why that occurred and see if a machine could have been down.”

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-enabled business intelligence (BI) continues to progress as survey respondents indicate they are considering a SaaS approach simply to accelerate the cycle times for deployment of new BI applications. SaaS BI vendors appear to be promising service-level agreements that included delivery time lines as part of the project scoping process.

Prior to deploying Bitam BI, plant managers received hard copy efficiency reports on a weekly basis. Now users can input notes directly on reports and store them electronically with built-in security and password measures.

The system's Advisor feature issues conditions alerts. “If efficiency drops below 95 percent, the system will send an alert message,” explains Ferens. “A text message or email can be sent if certain thresholds are reached.”

Users also can export information to presentation software such as Excel, or use external reporting systems. “We can manage multiple sites that all have their own data tables and part numbers,” says Ferens. “The system links to Microsoft Word, where users can pull up policy information and review it online.”

Typically, BI systems are first applied at the project level, focusing on both internal and external drivers. An internal focus usually narrows in on the shop-floor level to monitor production lines over time, which enables better understanding of operational efficiencies, says David Hatch, research director for Boston-based Aberdeen Group .

“In the chemical industry, for example, some companies want better information regarding raw material waste,” says Hatch. “They want to know if the right material was used and if quality assurance is doing its job.”

New deployment options for BI offer users numerous flexible implementation scenarios. According to a recent Aberdeen study, nearly 47 percent of users access BI systems from within another system, such as ERP.

The best potential for growth can be seen in the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, with 15 percent of respondents indicating they are using BI in a SaaS model ( see graphic ). At first glance, the number does not seem very high; however SaaS is the only category where the “plan to use” group is larger than the current user group.

“When it comes to deployment, no single option is right for everyone,” says Hatch. “It depends on user skill sets and IT services, and whether or not regulatory issues are involved.”

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