Softchoice implements Business Objects for analytics advantage

For reseller and solution provider Softchoice Corp. (TSX: SO), maximizing their share of each client’s technology spend is the key to growing their business. Before they could do that, though, they needed to know just how much of their business they had in the first place.

CDN‘s Top Solution Provider for 2009, Softchoice was data-rich but information-poor, said CEO Dave MacDonald. They’ve recorded and saved every customer transaction in their history, which is an advantage for both the company and its clients, but only if they can pull the data out efficiently and into a manageable format that everyone can agree on and work with.

“Once people don’t believe the data, the meeting is over,” said MacDonald.

Despite the wealth of data in Softchoice’s Oracle database, pulling out that data was a labour-intensive process for the company’s analyst team. Plus, they were pulling it into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which didn’t help managers get a consistent view. And the data deluge was only growing as the company added more SKUs and closed more transactions.

“Our ability to get all or most of a customer’s IT spend is key to compete, but it was hard to get the percentage of what we have,” said MacDonald. Without that baseline, it’s hard to know where to focus.

As one of Microsoft Canada‘s (NASDAQ: MSFT) larger partners, and as a reseller that does a lot of business with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), you might have expected Softchoice to go with Microsoft Dynamics or Cognos. MacDonald said they did consider the competitive offerings, and while he took a little grief from Cognos for the call, they went with a Business Objects implementation from SAP AG (NYSE: SAP).

The decision driver, said MacDonald, was that they could get up and running fastest with Business Objects, and it integrated well with their existing systems. Softchoice is running a highly-customized environment that includes the Business Objects suite for dashboarding and analytics, Microsoft CRM and SQL, an Oracle database and Oracle Financials. The company sees this in-house customized system as a competitive advantage.

“We now have a consistent dashboard and categories, and we’re all talking from the same page,” said MacDonald. “We can now focus our analytical resource son future modeling, not looking in the rear-view mirror.”

Better data is also important to Softchoice’s vendors, said MacDonald. Vendors pay Softchoice to execute on certain campaigns and focus on certain products and markets. They need data to report back to the vendors to quantify their return on investment, and justify future incentives.

More than pretty dashboards

Good analytics is much more than just pretty dashboards said Margaret Stuart, Canada country manager for Business Objects with SAP. With the data deluge surrounding all of us every day, analytics turns all of that data into real, useful and actionable information.

“The analytics transition is forcing business and IT to work together like never before,” said Stuart. “People feel they don’t have the information they need to make decisions.

Stuart has identified four key pillars for analytics that the SAP/Business Objects platform helps to build for users.

The first is getting the data right, with data management and a data governance strategy.

The second is a toolset that gets the right tools to the right users at the right time. You need a full suite that lets users work the way they need to.

The third is pre-built analytics and dashboarding for different industry verticals, with customized views and best practices that fit for the way business is done in each industry.

And the fourth is solutions to ensure governance, risk and compliance.

“In-memory technology is also going to be a game-changer, providing access to more data, and doing it faster,” said Stuart. “SAP wants one billion users by 2015, and that will take mobility and in-memory.”

Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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