Lessons Learned on a Business Intelligence Journey: A Q&A with Scott Franzel of OFS Brands

Originally published 19 October 2015

This BeyeNETWORK article features Ron Powell’s interview with Scott Franzel, Senior Vice President of IT for OFS Brands.  Scott describes to Ron the OFS Brands business intelligence journey and the four lessons they learned through the process.
Scott, could you talk about your role at OFS?

Scott Franzel: As Senior Vice President of IT, I have a responsibility for strategic planning and execution for all things technology for the company. It’s a lot of fun. I like the unpredictability of it. You walk through the doors every morning, and a lot of times you don’t know what is going to happen that day. And that’s something I enjoy.

Over the last five years you’ve been on a business intelligence (BI) journey. Could you give us a high level of that journey?

Scott Franzel: Coming out of the recession, we had a need to try to find ways to be a little bit more competitive in our environment. What we concluded was that we had to better equip our people with information so they could make timely and accurate decisions on behalf of the company. With that, we also wanted an increased level of accountability.

When we started having discussions around what that meant, it led us to the BI world. We started looking at solutions at that point. We needed to understand ourselves better, we needed to understand our products better, and we needed to understand our customers better.

From a BI infrastructure perspective, give us an idea of how you put it all together.

Scott Franzel: Obviously, there was the procurement of the software itself. We elected to run that in a VMware environment with a MySQL database behind it.

What type of software are you using?

Scott Franzel: We use a product called WebFocus from Information Builders, which is a dashboard-type reporting tool. We also have some additional tools where we can do things with unstructured data – something that’s called a Tag Cloud. We have an application where certain power users can go in and do some data mining and ad hoc reporting on their own. And then the last component, which we recently put in, is more of a data visualization-type tool where our users can look at something quickly and understand if there are outliers or other things that need to be addressed without sifting through a lot of information.

As far as rolling out to a user base, how did you accomplish that?

Scott Franzel: We took the approach of getting things done quick and often. We kind of chunked it out. The first area we focused on was our sales information. So we got sales information in people’s hands. We were able to do that in about 60 days. The next step was to make that information available in a mobile fashion so they had access to it on their smartphones and tablets. And then once we got through that, we just continued to go through the different parts of the organization – manufacturing, supply chain and quality – until we had everybody accounted for.

When you’re doing business intelligence, you often have to change the culture. How did you accomplish that within OFS?

Scott Franzel: We had a good process in place. So when people would challenge results with comments such as, “There’s no way that’s right” or “I’ve been doing this for years, that’s wrong”, we had to make sure we had a way to let people challenge what they were seeing and prove it right or wrong. We no longer report. We ask questions and we get answers. And, one of the unique things that we found through that is that it appears we now have this individual who works for our company whose name is BI. You’ll always hear, “Well, what did BI say about that?” or “Did you ask BI?” I’ve even heard people go so far as saying, “Did someone bring BI to the meeting?” – meaning did someone bring a laptop or a tablet so they could look things up as they’re having their discussion.

Over the last five years, are there some lessons learned that you could share if you had to do it all over again?

Scott Franzel: There are four key lessons that we learned that we like to share with people. The first is when you’re looking at these types of solutions and you’re trying to figure out what’s best for the organization, don’t force it to the users. The way we were able to work through that was getting the executives involved early – letting them understand the benefits. We used what I would call demo data, but it addressed a real problem. So while our vendors were doing their presentations, we had our senior leadership team engaged in a conversation about how we should handle a certain situation. We also had some business unit champions that we really let help drive the decision-making process for us, which then naturally resulted in a faster adoption rate with the user community.

Another lesson that we learned is that you have to have accurate results and a way for people to challenge those, as I previously mentioned. That was key.

Speed was a critical factor. There is a document we like to share with people where it says, “After a user has to wait for more than 10 seconds, they start losing interest in what they were doing.” So we wanted to make sure that speed was accounted for, and it got a little tricky with some of the mobile components of that because then you’re relying on a cellular carrier. But we did some things with architecture and tuning to address those needs.

And then the fourth thing we learned is that ease of access is very critical. We wanted to make sure that our users had access to the application and could ask questions no matter where they were or what time of day.

Those were the four things that we learned that we like to share with people, and hopefully they can incorporate them in their journeys.

There are a lot of new and different types of data sources out there today. Are you seeing some challenges with these sources?

Scott Franzel: We are seeing some challenges just in terms of the volume of data. But we do have some tools that are doing a good job handling that. For us, that would be more of our unstructured type data, specific to our quality area where we have people out in the field that are dealing with returns or damaged product. They do a lot of free-form typing. We’re able to pull that in through a Tag Cloud application and really get a sense of what’s going on by sifting through volumes of data very quickly. Our users can see that in a visual format and go into detail where we need to.

What have you seen from a return on investment perspective?

Scott Franzel: The word that we like to use – our CEO has mentioned it – is immeasurable. The benefits have been so great that that’s how he classifies them. We’ve seen it in all different areas. It’s sometimes hard to come up with one number or one ROI. We’ve seen it with our products where we’ve improved margins. We’ve identified areas where we could do that. We’ve seen it in situations where we’ve been able to increase revenues in certain geographic locations because we understand buying patterns. We found ways to do some creative things with our pricing during some seasonality type of cycles as a result of that. While it’s hard to come up with just one number, there are many, many, many successes along the way that have been very positive for the organization.

Scott, thank you for sharing your BI journey with us.

SOURCE: Lessons Learned on a Business Intelligence Journey: A Q&A with Scott Franzel of OFS Brands

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward series. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at rpowell@powellinteractivemedia.com. 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel.

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