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Sales analytics a sweet spot for business intelligence via SaaS model

The SaaS BI model can help businesses establish a sales analytics strategy that pulls customers and partners into the BI loop.

Software as a Service BI vendor LucidEra Inc. may be calling it quits, but elsewhere demand is growing for business intelligence software delivered via the SaaS model. Some businesses, for example, are adopting it to share sales and supply chain data to drive revenue and efficiency, and establish a sales analytics strategy that loops in customers and partners.

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Jeff Kaplan, founder and managing director of ThinkStrategies Inc., a consulting firm in Wellesley, Mass., said sales analytics is the area experiencing the most pickup among SaaS BI users because it allows easy access to data and facilitates multi-user collaboration.

That's the case across Distribution Market Advantage's (DMA) supply chain. A national food distributor formed by 12 regional food service distributors such as Gordon Food Service Inc., it manages and delivers grocery orders to 40 restaurants, hospitals, schools and hotels, including Chili's Inc. It began using PivotLink Corp.'s SaaS BI tool to give the distributors and supply chain managers insight into buying trends down to the restaurant and product level, as well as visibility into delivery data and trends.

One delivery trend report uncovered why DMA was making 16 extra food deliveries per week to its 40 customers. "We have a cutoff time of 1 p.m. for [food] orders, and the sales and order data showed that the supply chain managers were ordering too close to that cutoff time," said Jim Szatkowski, vice president of data services at DMA, which is based in Schaumburg, Ill.

Using delivery and order data collected across its customer base, the company reduced these extra shipments from 16 to four, cutting about $600 a week in delivery charges. The data also helped customers across the board reduce extra inventory and tighten up their delivery processes.

"Being able to give customers visibility into order and delivery data [using Web-based dashboards] is critical, because in some cases our [food] distribution center may be 200 miles away from a customer, and not having groceries is a big deal for a restaurant," Szatkowski said.

SaaS model BI drives insights among franchises

The Culver's restaurant chain, known for its ButterBurgers and custard sundaes, adopted a BI strategy specifically to give its 400 franchise owners insight into promotional sales data. "It was a major deal to our franchisees when we introduced a Snack Pack [smaller portions of its burgers, fries and drinks] because it was something completely new to the menu so we had to analyze the heck out of the sales results of this promotion," said Paul Mullin, a business analyst at Prairie du Sac, Wis.-based Culver Franchising System Inc.

The problem was, franchisees were getting promotional sales data two months after the promotion began. That's how long it took Mullin to pull the centralized sales data for each individual franchise out of the back-end operations system to create 270 individual reports. Then the company tied the back-end system to SaaS BI vendor RedPrairie Corp.'s Performance Management (RPM) application and was able to develop a centralized report in minutes. Franchisees still saw only their own data, but the extraction from the back-office system took place automatically and was organized by the RPM tool, Mullin said.

Culver's 20 field people dedicated to franchise regions also now have automated access to transactional data gathered at the cash register level and housed in the back-end system. These field reps were spending about two hours every Monday to pull numbers on drive-through sales and length of delivery times alone because they had to get the data from the back-end system, put it into a spreadsheet and create a newsletter for the franchisees. Now they pull up a scorecard that was developed using Microsoft PerformancePoint Dashboard Designer, which extracts the cash register transaction and delivery-time data from the RPM tool and quickly displays it.

As other customers work with PivotLink they are coming up with new ways for us to serve our own customers with new data visualization methods and dashboards and geospatial mapping.
Jim Szatkowski
vice president of data servicesDistribution Market Advantage

"The goal is to speed up delivery time at drive-throughs, and our field people were able to show their franchisees if they were meeting an average delivery time of four minutes or if half the time it took longer than that and they potentially annoyed a customer," Mullin said. "Now the field staff is able to spend more time with the franchisee versus running reports."

The Web-based, self-service nature of BI tools delivered via the SaaS model makes it possible for the average user to create his own queries and dashboards, in turn driving collaboration and innovation. It also lets them do so in formats that they are used to working in, such as iGoogle, or publish reports to the email system to be shared by all.

On average, a midmarket company needs less than the equivalent of one full-time employee for the care and feeding of the RedPrairie system. The scorecards at Culver's saved the company the equivalent of hiring a full-time employee as well because the BI tool is automated and geared toward self-service.

As it often does based on customer feedback, PivotLink developed an add-on to its BI tool at DMA, this one being a Google Gadget to let customers check their inventory levels from their iGoogle pages. The collaborative environment among PivotLink's BI customers is also leading DMA to look at new data sources and data delivery methods.

"As other customers work with PivotLink, they are coming up with new ways for us to serve our own customers with new data visualization methods and dashboards and geospatial mapping," Szatkowski said. "We're drafting in behind these customers, innovating sooner and in ways we couldn't have done on our own."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, Senior News Writer

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