Materis Paints Italia SpA
Board gives new colour to Baldini Vernici
Baldini Paints is an Italian company owned by Group Lafarge.
The Lafarge Group is world Leader in building materials.
The Lucca company, well known as an exponent of the hard sell, relies on analytical and simulation tools provided by the Board Internationals Management Intelligence Toolkit suite to evaluate sales, assess the outcome of promotional activities, and forecast results.
An IT tool able to paint a picture of the company at any given moment and sneak an early look at its expected evolution. This too is a part of Business Intelligence, an intelligence that must sketch out new scenarios, and give colour and substance to planning and final balances. Putting all this to the test is Baldini Vernici, the Lucca-based manufacturer and supplier of paint products. The company distributes through diversified channels, to ensure it reaches both a target clientele of professional users, and consumers generally.
"We have been growing constantly and expanding fast in recent years - says Stefano Taddei, the companys IT manager, - and this in a market where growth has been stable now for quite some time, which means we have looked at every possible opportunity for further penetration. So it was almost inevitable that we would invest in analytical tools allowing us to evaluate sales performance and margins, compare profitability within the different distribution channels, study the outcomes of promotional initiatives and speculate on what the results might be."
All the more important in a highly fragmented sector, where brand loyalty is not particularly strong and margins tend to keep shrinking. Add to this the fact that an aggressive commercial policy, a major factor in the companys success, obliges the management of Baldini Vernici to stay keenly aware of and continue to analyze the indicators that emerge from buying patterns discernible in a somewhat diversified target market. "On the strategic level first and foremost, - observes Taddei, - to find out how and where the company can continue to expand, but from a tactical standpoint too, so that we can see how sales are influenced by discounts and promotions, or conversely by specific situations attributable to geographical or distribution channel factors."
In October of last year the company launched a project aimed at building a Business Intelligence platform, following a preliminary assessment that saw Board Internationals Board package come out on top. The solution combines different functionalities, such as EIS (Executive Information System), DSS (Decision Support System) and OLAP in a single multidimensional environment, namely, for the creation of analysis, simulation and reporting.
The Baldini information system uses an AS/400 Host of the 720 family, operating in an Ethernet structure to which some forty PCs are connected. Several companies of the Sesa group worked on the configuration of the applications, which include the ACG accounting package, and SAM, an MRP type software. The ACG package, explains Taddei, offers an optimum price/quality ratio, whereas SAM was indispensable for managing a process mechanism, tending often to originate end products different to those actually planned, in response to requirements that would already have changed in the meantime. Thus, it is in a dynamic context that the implementation of Board takes place.
The introduction of Board has had a big impact on Baldini. This is evident in the creation of a new position, an Analysis Manager, within the company. This individual is chartered with initiating and developing analytical analysis, and putting the results to measurable use. Most notably, these results are used by sales, finance and management. "A great improvement, - stresses IT manager Taddei, - compared to the past, when it was the EDP staff who created reports." Board is installed on a dedicated server, operating in a Novell network, which is supplied by the UDB DB2/400 and creates the multidimensional models. Queries are either ready-made, or formulated by company users spontaneously. "In the AS/400 environment, -Taddei continues- , the integrity and coherence of data and the speed of the database, which works in conjunction with the operating system, are no doubt extraordinary, but there is no sufficiently intuitive simulation and analysis tool that can be used by experts and non-experts alike, from top management to agents. This is the indisputable advantage of Board." In addition, Board is also able to handle several levels of access, according to different user profiles.
Board also converts into a tool for publishing data on the Web. Users are then able to access this data using a browser, and submit queries or view dedicated reports on specific performance indicators.
With Board, previously defined functions can be associated with respective buttons so that online operations are also made simpler. "For example, - says Taddei,- by entering the code for a single customer and clicking the relative button, the user can produce a profitability analysis, or study information for a given period, such as the details of sales per channel, or the average discount applied. The most surprising feature, however, is probably the ease of managing massive bodies of data, however large, deriving cubes that can be queried with the same simplicity." This relieves the EDP function of tasks that were previously unavoidable, when confronted with users of the various functional areas wanting statistics and detail charts. "Another particularly strong point of the solution is the reporting facility, which allows any chart to be generated directly on an Excel spreadsheet. In other words, there is no need to learn how it works". Consequently, the company is now able to perform a rich array of analyses, formerly unimaginable.
"Like when rotating articles in a superstore, discount and DIY type outlets, - declares Taddei, - on a geographical basis. And again, the spot searches we rely on continually to verify our marketing policies, which in the past would regularly need a full day to run. These can now be completed in far less time than before.
Board can be exploited with equal effectiveness for computing balances or forecasting, in other words, as easily for sales analysis and financial reporting as for simulation and budgeting. This activity too, will soon be among the tasks of the Business Intelligence platform. "On the one hand, - concludes the IT manager of Baldini Vernici,- "we are operating with flexibility undreamed of previously, and on the other, we are taking considerably less time to prepare the annual budget."