Business Intelligence that Delivers for Logistics

Paul Schwartz, Director of Information, WSI
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Paul Schwartz, Director of Information, WSI

In logistics, information is the engine driving our industry. Sales history, transaction details, inventory levels, cycle counts and transportation routing. In an age where organizations demand real-time access to business intelligence, the ability to rapidly evaluate and disseminate that information can mean the difference between propelling a client toward market leadership or losing them to a competitor.

In the not-so-distant past, the tools at our disposal were arduous, at best. Starting with volumes of data from disparate sources, it might take days or even weeks to scrub the data, develop the logic and create analytics. But today, we have access to powerful business intelligence applications that effortlessly consolidate information from a variety of data sources, making it more readily accessible, flexible and understandable to a broad range of audiences. These tools have truly changed our industry.

There are a number of business intelligence tools currently on the market. When evaluating the options for my company, a national logistics provider, we felt that Tableau® offered the greatest flexibility and ease of use. Its graphic visualization approach is designed to make the complex data in databases and spreadsheets more readily understandable.

Seamless Data Integration

Tableau connects data from a wide variety of sources, including SAP, Oracle databases, MySQL, Google Analytics, spreadsheets, text documents and more. Regardless of the file's initial format, Tableau can create a single metadata element that provides a holistic view of business intelligence allowing us to manipulate the data, look at it in a variety of ways, and deliver a high-end, presentation-quality result that's easily understood by a wide range of audiences. The application gives you the flexibility to deliver business intelligence in dozens of different graphic presentations, from heat maps, to dynamic charts, timeseries graphs and more.

Complex Multidimensional Analysis

As customer needs for real-time information and precision performance continue to grow, so do the demands on IT to deliver detailed intelligence. Tableau gives us the ability to use extracts and create new data cubes on the fly, which is priceless in our world.

Transaction History. For example, if a customer wants to see whether there are regional trends in demand for a certain product, we can pull data on specific facilities, transactions and time…and create a visual presentation that illustrates where those peaks in demand are happening.

Distribution Center Location. We can help a customer identify the best location for a new distribution center by applying information relative to inbound product, outbound shipments, zip codes (which are already loaded into the application) and transportation costs to create heat maps showing them which locations would offer the most benefit for their money. In one case, we showed a customer how they could save over a million dollars a year by moving their DC closer to a region of high demand cutting transportation costs while reducing delivery times and on-hand inventories. And best of all, a process that used to take weeks can be accomplished in a single day.

"Using Tableau has cut our data analysis time by around 90 percent. We're able to respond to customer needs more quickly and they, in turn, can react to the market faster"

Facility Engineering. Another area where an analytical tool like this is extremely valuable is in optimizing the operations of our facilities. We can look at our labor needs over time and flex accordingly; review cycle counts for different products to determine which are A, B, or C level product fulfilled more or less frequently and then, design the best facility layout for fulfilling those fast-moving products more efficiently.

Real-Time Visibility to Key Performance Indicators

I think one of the most exciting features of an application like Tableau is having dashboard access to a business' key performance indicators (KPI's). Instead of writing code and using wizards, we can connect directly to our data using dragand- drop functionality to create real-time presentations around shipment volumes, customer trends, staffing levels and more.

Some of the dashboards Tableau has created specifically for logistics include:

  • Calendars
  • Customer Mapping
  • Distribution Center Statistics
  • Inventory Pareto
  • Quantity-on Hand/ QOH by Product Bundle
  • Routing Maps To view demos and report galleries, visit tableausoftware.com.

Technology That Delivers Results

In an industry that revolves around accurate and timely performance, Tableau is a useful business intelligence tool that aligns well with the requirements of our industry. It's invaluable in our daily operations and a value-added service for our customers helping us both improve profitability. Recently, we were involved in an international distribution RFP with a "need it now" timeline. As a result of being able to use a tool like Tableau, we were able to pull international volumes and transactional histories from a variety of different ERP systems. We were the only participant who was able to respond within the required timeframe and ultimately, we got the business. Bottom line, having a business intelligence tool like Tableau allows us to continually deliver the high level of service our customers have come to expect from WSI.

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