Smith & Associates reacts faster to emerging opportunities gaining faster insight into supply chains and operations with IBM Cognos software
Smith & Associates is a world-leading distributor of electronic components. The company employs more than 300 people, with regional headquarters in Houston (TX), Hong Kong and Amsterdam, and numerous sales and purchasing offices across three continents. As a pioneer in the management of the electronics industry’s complex supply chains, Smith & Associates has built up the experience, skills and reputation that enable it to earn a consistent number-one ranking for sales in the industry.
In a highly time-sensitive business environment, Smith & Associates needs to be able to source the right electronic components at the right price, and ensure that they can be delivered to meet customers’ tight manufacturing schedules.
IBM® Cognos® Business Intelligence and IBM Cognos TM1® deliver rapid, real-time insight into inventory levels, pricing and the supply chain, enabling Smith & Associates’ traders to source, purchase and deliver the components that its customers need. PREDICTif Solutions, an IBM Business Partner, helped to embed analytics into the traders’ existing systems, providing seamless access to reports even while the traders are on the phone to customers.
- Gives traders and trade managers a deeper understanding of important factors such as cost of inventory, helping them to make better sales decisions and maintain profit margins.
- Integrates business intelligence and planning data, providing a comprehensive solution for all types of business analysis.
- Doubles the speed of many reporting processes, delivering near-instant, real time access to information. Smith & Associates expects performance to improve even further with the introduction of the new Dynamic Query mode.
- Provides an intuitive set of management tools, reducing workload for the IT team and enabling easier development and upgrades.
“The distribution of electronic components is an extremely fast-moving business,” explains Marc Barnhill, Chief Trading Officer at Smith & Associates. “The reason we’ve been able to maintain our leading position is that we use our expertise to make good decisions quickly, and ensure that we can deliver the components our customers need, when they need them, and at the right price. Our ability to make these decisions depends on the quality and timeliness of the information we have access to – which is where business analytics technology comes in.”
EMBEDDED ANALYTICS WITH IBM COGNOS SOFTWARE
For several years, Smith & Associates has been using IBM Cognos Business Intelligence and IBM Cognos TM1 software to provide its traders, trade managers, accountants and marketers with vital data.
“We use IBM Cognos software across the whole business, and almost 20 percent of our staff are direct users,” says Phyllis Tsu. “All our financial reporting and planning processes are handled by Cognos Business Intelligence and Cognos TM1, and we have also started using these tools to provide rapid insight into operational areas such as sales, pricing and inventory.”
Reacting quickly to emerging opportunities
When an opportunity arises, Smith & Associates’ trading team needs to be able to take rapid action – checking current inventory and suppliers’ availability, calculating prices and assessing delivery times, and finally making an offer to the customer. The business moves so fast that traders often need to be able to quote a price to the customer during the course of a single phone call.
“The traders need to be able to generate quite complex analyses extremely quickly, and they need a very user-friendly system that they can use while they are on the phone,” explains Phyllis Tsu. “So two of the main requirements for our trading analytics solution were that the response speed had to be excellent, and the interface had to show them all the information they need on a single screen.
“From an IT perspective, this meant that we wanted better integration between Cognos Business Intelligence and TM1, and we also needed to boost performance so that traders’ queries could be run within seconds. In both cases, the answer was an upgrade to IBM Cognos 10.”
QUICK AND EASY MIGRATION
Working with PREDICTif Solutions, an IBM Business Partner that specializes in business analytics implementations, Smith & Associates upgraded from version 8.3 to version 10.1 of IBM Cognos Business Intelligence. The team used the Lifecycle Manager feature to check that each of its key reports would work properly on the new system before migrating them over.
“Lifecycle Manager is a valuable addition to Cognos Business Intelligence,” comments Phyllis Tsu. “It shows what each report will look like before and after the migration, so it’s easy to compare them and make sure that everything is working correctly. As a result, we were able to complete the entire project within a month – two or three times faster than our last upgrade.”
She adds: “The PREDICTif team has played a big role, not only in the upgrade but in our whole business analytics journey. Aside from their technical knowledge and expertise, they also provided a solution guide that gave us a best-practice approach to Cognos deployment. In addition, PREDICTIF’s unique APIs [application programming interfaces] helped us integrate analytics into our trading and ERP systems – so our traders can call up Cognos reports with a few mouse-clicks, without having to switch applications. The integration is so seamless that in many cases they don’t even know they’re using Cognos.”
The ability to access reports from both Cognos Business Intelligence and TM1 within the trading system is a major advantage for busy traders who need to access information while they are on the phone with customers – but it would count for nothing if the solution did not respond quickly enough. The second major benefit of the new version of the Cognos solution is that performance is in many cases twice as fast as before.
“The new version of Cognos Business Intelligence definitely handles traders’ queries faster than the previous version – although the improvements may not seem impressive when you’re talking about a few seconds or sub-seconds,” says Phyllis Tsu. “But when you look at major reporting tasks such as the end-of-month financial close, the improvement is obvious: a process that used to take over an hour now runs in less than 30 minutes.”
HARNESSING NEW FEATURES
From a performance perspective, the Smith & Associates team is also excited about the new Dynamic Query Mode, which uses advanced caching and local/remote processing technologies to accelerate query speeds even further. IBM benchmarks have shown 50 to 75 percent improvements with Dynamic Query Mode – a success which Smith & Associates hopes to emulate in the near future.
Another feature of the latest version of Cognos Business Intelligence is Active Report, which enables Smith & Associates to send reports to branch managers and allows branch managers to interact with data without needing access to the central Cognos system.
“Previously, we used to send reports to the branches in Microsoft® Excel® format, and although this was not nearly as powerful or secure as the Cognos solution, the branch managers liked the look-and-feel,” explains Phyllis Tsu. “With Active Report we have been able to create a dashboard that looks just like the spreadsheets, so it gives them the best of both worlds.”
Other features that the company may deploy in the future include Business Insight, which makes it easier for users to create their own personalized dashboards, and Cognos Mobile.
“We use a whole range of smartphones and devices – from the iPhone and iPad to BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile,” says Phyllis Tsu. “If we can give our users access to Cognos via these devices, so that traders can access all the information they need when they’re visiting a customer or on the road, it could be a big win for us.”
DEEPER INSIGHT, BETTER BUSINESS DECISIONS
Focusing back on the benefits Smith & Associates has already achieved with IBM Cognos 10, Phyllis Tsu concludes:
“Above all, our traders and other users across the business can now get a much more comprehensive view of operational information and how it affects their day-to-day work. For example, previously a trader might just have looked at a product’s pricing and its availability from suppliers. Now, they can also see current inventory and understand how inventory costs affect the profitability of a deal. Everything they need is on one screen and available within seconds – so if a customer is asking them about prices and delivery times, they have all the answers at their fingertips.”
ABOUT IBM BUSINESS ANALYTICS
IBM Business Analytics software delivers actionable insights decision-makers need to achieve better business performance. IBM offers a comprehensive, unified portfolio of business intelligence, predictive and advanced analytics, financial performance and strategy management, governance, risk and compliance and analytic applications.
With IBM software, companies can spot trends, patterns and anomalies, compare “what if” scenarios, predict potential threats and opportunities, identify and manage key business risks and plan, budget and forecast resources. With these deep analytic capabilities our customers around the world can better understand, anticipate and shape business outcomes.