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Smollan, ASYST Intelligence partner to deliver actionable intelligence in retail space

Pioneering South African field marketing and brand-activation company, the Smollan Group, has entrenched its position as the leader in its field with the implementation of an innovative business intelligence (BI) portal that delivers meaningful, actionable information to its FMCG clients, enabling them to make better business decisions and significantly enhancing their competitiveness. Smollan, which has a legacy of using sophisticated technologies to power its services, is the first local company in its field to provide its clients (manufacturers and retailers) in the retail sector with immediate access to critical business and retail information from a single point.

"Smollan itself generates huge volumes of information and we also have access to a mountain of vital business data from a variety of sources, but it was locked in a plethora of different systems and it was very difficult to institutionalise our information systems.

"It also meant that we had to go to different places to get the answers our clients wanted, which was tedious, complicated and time-consuming. We wanted to create a single portal that would provide our clients and field representatives with access to all the relevant information they wanted, whenever they needed it.

"In essence, we wanted one version of the truth that would facilitate better, faster and more effective decision-making and improved operational effectiveness," explains Colleen Rose, Smollan's IT director.

In order to do this, Smollan first had to build a warehouse where information from various sources could be cleaned, matched, stored and then transformed into reliable, actionable intelligence.

The company partnered with ASYST Intelligence, a focused provider of strategic BI and data management solutions, to assist with the design and implementation of the data warehouse and reporting structures using leading-edge Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and Business Objects XI software.

Over three months were spent on developing the data warehouse architecture, which has been designed with the capacity for new functionality to be added as the data warehouse grows and evolves, such as dashboards and scorecards.

Once the data warehouse was complete, the team - led by Smollan's Business Value Services manager, William du Plessis - built a robust Internet-based portal using the latest Web-based development technology, MS.NET v2.

The portal, called MIGrate, delivers a series of Business Objects Xcelsius dashboards, drill-down enabled Crystal reports and the ad-hoc querying ability of WebIntelligence, which enables Smollan users, as well as its clients, to view mission-critical information within three clicks of a mouse button.

Information that can be accessed via MIGrate includes management information at the point Of purchase (MIPOP), such as speed to shelf (new products), promotional compliance, on shelf availability, shelf health and pricing.

"This allows our clients and customers to see at a glance what is happening in the field, quickly identify and act on problems, and of course, leverage the information they have at their fingertips to make more informed decisions and improve their bottom line," says Rose.

Paul Morgan, Managing Director at ASYST Intelligence, admits the project, which spanned more than 12 months, was a mammoth undertaking largely because of the numerous systems, classifications and codes that had to be matched and fed into the data warehouse.

"Smollan has a diverse range of customers and clients who all have their own set of terminology, codes and references to classify the retail space. For instance, a manufacturer may refer to ketchup, while the store will classify it as tomato sauce, and Smollan may call it T-sauce, but they are all talking about the same thing.

"There was also a lot of variation and duplication in store names. So, we had to do a great deal of cross-mapping to ensure the accuracy of the data going into the system and to make sure everyone is talking in the same language," explains Morgan.

At the time that the project kicked-off in December 2005, Microsoft SQL Server 2005 had only just been released, which meant the team had to overcome a few undocumented technological glitches in the software.

"There was lots of learning on the job, which made this project challenging and interesting. It was also a significant project for ASYST, because this was our first major project using SQL 2005 and we were among the first in the country to use it," says Morgan. “However, we've always been able to rely on Microsoft and Business Objects software working well together, and this was no exception."

Morgan is quick to add that the project had Smollan's executive-level buy-in from the beginning, which significantly reduced the time to implement the project.

"So often, there is a gap between what business wants out of IT and how much time and money they are willing to invest. The result is that some implementations are delayed or even fall completely flat. This project worked because we had the Smollan board's support and buy-in every step of the way.

"We also consider ourselves as strategic partners to Smollan, and our management team was always available to the team at every level throughout the implementation. We believe this emphasis on partnership also helped to streamline the process," says Morgan.

Du Plessis reiterates this sentiment, saying that ASYST proved an exceptional and value-adding partner.

"ASYST deployed three members of their own team to our site, which meant there was a transfer of invaluable knowledge and skills to our own team. Building a world-class business intelligence solution is hard work, but ASYST was up to the challenge and provided an unrivalled level of support.

"Sales and merchandising companies worldwide are being selected based on the quality and accessibility of their retail system information. Smollan is now well on its way to being a truly business intelligent company and is certainly the market-leader in terms of the insight we give our clients and customers," concludes du Plessis.

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ASYST Intelligence

ASYST Intelligence is an empowered South African company providing experienced consultancy and specialising in the provision and improvement of Business Intelligence and Data Management systems. ASYST Intelligence is a Business Objects Enterprise Partner and a Microsoft Certified Partner and boasts an established client base, incorporating household names such as Anglo Platinum, Eskom, arivia.kom, ABSA, Phalaborwa Mining, RMB Private Bank and ARMSCOR. More information about ASYST Intelligence can be found at www.asyst.co.za/intelligence.

Smollan Group

Today, the Smollan Group is regarded as Africa's pioneer in a diverse range of outsourced services to multiple channels, primarily within the FMCG industry. The Smollan business was built around traditional sales and merchandising services and the business offers this function to many of the blue chip food manufacturers in the country, but it is clear that in today's demanding retailing environment many complementary services are required and Smollan has expanded to fulfil a diverse range of offerings to its clients. Today, the group describes itself as a diversified marketing services company, focused on providing visibility, mobility and intelligence for a vast spectrum of well-loved brands. With unparalleled industry experience within the group and sophisticated technologies to power its services, the Smollan Group has a legacy of providing exceptional execution at the most critical brand junction: the point of purchase. Its client base is diverse both in terms of size and industry.

 

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