Best Practices for Business Intelligence

Build your own tools for supply chain decision-making


  • Automate the analysis phase as much as possible. Reduce the amount of time users spent on analysis (a good goal is five percent) so the bulk of time can be devoted to driving and implementing process improvements.
  • Identify possible actions within the tool itself, with associated parameters such as the value and cost of each option.
  • Use a subscription model to push relevant data out to users who request it, rather than requiring them to search for it.

4). Build a centralized database of high-quality, clean data

Good business decisions depend upon using accurate, comprehensive data for BI tools. Companies should collect data from internal and external sources (e.g. business partners) in a central repository and build a validation tool to “scrub” it. Next, exceptions should be identified and corrected. Not only will this method improve data quality, it will help reduce future errors by going to the source.

5). Achieve critical mass

Take the time to build the database architecture correctly to support scalability and provide a solid foundation for creating future BI tools. As the database becomes larger and more accurate and basic tools are developed, it becomes easier to leverage these resources to build new tools covering other aspects of the supply chain. For example, Jabil started with a decision support tool; added advanced planning and logistics reporting; and was able to expand it to a sourcing, risk management, inbound optimization and even a carbon footprint tool.

Also, keeping historical records of data lays the foundation for trending. History makes it possible to analyze variations to see if they represent true change. This capability is especially valuable for managing inventory.

The pluses of BI

Key benefits of custom BI tools for companies begin with greater efficiency of supply chain personnel. By sharply reducing the amount of time required for labor-intensive analysis by staff, BI tools free up these human resources to focus on driving productivity improvements that have been prioritized and quantified by the tools. A related business advantage is the ability to examine all data, not just subsets of data. BI tools continually sweep and analyze all data, in contrast to human analysts, who have time restrictions and multiple responsibilities. Finally, companies that build and leverage BI tools can demonstrate higher levels of savings and efficiency to their customers, helping to gain a competitive advantage and driving greater satisfaction.

Fred Hartung, Vice President of Supply Chain Solutions and Logistics at Jabil, is responsible for advanced planning, business analytics, supply chain tool development, logistics and trade compliance. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Engineering from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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