Celestica launches SAP Business Analytics Center of Excellence project

Celestica's senior director of business support solutions shared his tips on how his company launched a Business Analytics Center of Excellence project with SAP BusinessObjects.

Last year was a tough time to get buy-in for any IT project -- especially one with as ambitious a name as the "Business Analytics Center of Excellence."

But in November 2009, Celestica, an SAP ERP and SCM shop, went live with several projects on the SAP BusinessObjects XI 3.1 platform. In less than a year, it went from the proof of concept stage to tool selection to go-live, with a team devoted to business intelligence and deep analytics, according to Tianbing Qian, senior director of business support solutions, who is responsible for IT strategy and delivery in analytics, collaboration and integration. Celestica is a global electronics manufacturing services provider based in Toronto.

Qian said the project, and its subsequent success, was driven by a mantra from his CIO, Mary Gendron: "We're going to demonstrate the power of analytics through live action, not through PowerPoint slides." Demonstrating the ROI of analytics through action was key to maintaining support and launching a project in such a short time frame, Qian said during an interview at Sapphire in Orlando, where he discussed the project highlights and offered advice for getting executive buy-in.

"If you have the executive support, you have all of the data, and all of the endorsement to put a dream team together," he said. That dream team at Celestica is made up of traditional IT staff, operational research specialists and data mining specialists.

Proofs of concept were crucial in gaining and maintaining executive support, Qian said. His team did a live proof of concept on a real data mart, analyzing actual customer data. When the first was revealed, every department wanted in on it – such that Qian did five proofs of concept in two months.

He also recommended focusing on the right questions, in order to bond with the stakeholders. Lots of organizations focus on answering questions that the super users have, but Celestica spent a lot of time working with executives to answer their questions with the proofs of concept. Those questions were really the ones with the high monetary potential.

In turn, in order to help sell the project, Qian wrote a 140-page business plan, analyzing what the best practices were and where the organization wanted to go. Obviously, there are certain financial objectives, he said. But at the end of the day, it's about strategic goals, customer and financial goals, and achieving many types of operational improvements.

"I would argue, it's more than just a business case," he said. "I wrote a business plan. I feel if we focus just on the ROI, it restrains the potential."

In the third quarter of 2008, Celestica bought SAP BusinessObjects licenses and implemented the tools on an Oracle database, which it already owned. Several projects were up and running by November.

In a short time frame, Celestica has realized value from several projects associated with the Business Analytics Center of Excellence.

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Internally, the organization created a spend portal to track the top-down visibility detail level of all spend, giving insight and visibility into different cost-saving opportunities. In the past, managers were chasing down information from multiple ERP systems.

Qian also focused on creating cross-functional linkages. For instance, his team created a portal called the sales and operations planning portal that links sales and operations information, providing end-to-end visibility across functions. That helped drastically reduce product cycle time -- from weeks to days.

Customers have seen improvements from the project as well.

The Business Analytics Center of Excellence helped develop reports and predictive insights to help analyze cross-company value-chain data and pinpoint opportunities to reduce product returns, helping customers to reduce cost and improve end consumer loyalty.

In turn, they helped develop reports and predictive insights to help customers analyze past history and better forecast future demand and product mix, which in turn helps reduce inventory and improve service levels.

Qian said implementing BusinessObjects allowed them to focus on the end-goal -- delivering analytics. Because the tools are so easy to use and work well, they didn't get in the way of the project.

"BusinessObjects does its job; the tools never become a major issue," he said. "I really didn't want this to become a BusinessObjects implementation, but a business analytics implementation. I think that's the model. The people, the leadership, the process. That plays a much more dominant role than the specific tool itself."

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