By Emily Chia, Enterprise Innovation 03-Oct-2012
Online tax-free shopping portal Global Blue has been leveraging on business intelligence (BI) in the cloud since three years ago. Leei Hong Chen, vice president for service management sales/BI, tells our sister publication Enterprise Innovation how the organization has benefitted from business intelligence.
Enterprise Innovation: What was your IT infrastructure like previously and how has it changed since then?
Leei Hong Chen: Back then, most processes were manual and paper-based. Since then, we have successfully shifted towards a highly digitized, paperless environment. Digitization of the business was imperative in helping us manage the increasing volume of our business, which has doubled — even tripled — over the last few years.
“[O]ur data warehouse is like a mirror and is a reflection of how the organization and its individual systems are performing.”
– Leei Hong Chen, VP for service management sales/BI, Global Blue
An example for the shift towards a more digitized environment is the collaboration with IRAS (Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore) to launch the eTRS (Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme) project to simplify the process of offering tax refunds to tourists. Because of this we won the CIO Award for the second time in a row.
Today, our IT infrastructure is built on two key pillars — cloud and mobility. We adopted cloud about three years ago. At that time, business intelligence (BI) in the cloud was unheard of, and we were a pioneer in this area.
Lastly, from a data warehouse point of view, we are focusing on lifecycle transaction from beginning to end. This is important as it provides an opportunity to analyze where companies are at different points of time, so they can make educated business decisions based on the intelligence provided.
How did you use business analytics through the years and what were the benefits?
Leei: Currently, almost one-third or even 40% of Global Blue’s operations leverage business analytics from our data warehouse.
There are several considerations when making use of business analytics, including concerns of security and hardware specifications. The large amount of data requires a significant amount of CPU memory and energy. To ensure a smooth process and no data loss, it’s important to run business analytics in a safe environment and have a purpose-built data center.
Global Blue has two data center hubs today, one in Singapore and one in Vienna. Both have thorough disaster recovery plans in place. The major hub located in Vienna is responsible for processing most of the data.
There are three main groups of users for business analytics with corresponding requirements. First, we have executives who are focused on looking at certain KPIs. They make use of traffic-light systems and the executive dashboards which run by month, or even daily, depending on how they have been customized.
The next group of users further analyzes certain events. Usually this starts with a question in mind, for example, how the Singapore business is doing. Analyzing available data on such a broad question generates rather generic answers. In a next step, these users will identify key areas within those generic information on which they will want to drill down further, from there on, the process will be continuously refined.
Last but not least, BA is used on a commercial basis. Merchants value our insights which we provide as a service. Our insights portfolio provides merchants with information on their performance in the marketplace and also how they fare against other merchants. The merchants can be benchmarked by different dimensions, for example by shopping center, trade, country and city.
As an example, we recently established a joint partnership with a research company in London and examined two major shopping streets. It was perceived that traffic in one street decreased, but we needed to determine whether that was just “emotional” or whether the hard facts would support this thesis — and if so, where the traffic went instead and why.
How did you justify to your management the need for implementing these solutions?
Leei: To be honest, it did not take much to convince the upper management to implement business analytics as they already saw it as a useful information source which is imperative to making business decisions.
What we have done was to integrate multiple systems into one singular platform combining various functions and streamlining processes.
As an analogy, our data warehouse is like a mirror and is a reflection of how the organization and its individual systems are performing. The data warehouse does not create new information, but only collects it, so you will be alerted if the existing information is compromised. It is a good gauge of how good or bad the data is.
Using the mirror as a messenger, the organization is able to see for the first time how information fits together and can do the right thing to address the source of the problem if conflicts arise.
How did the IT infrastructure and business processes change?
Leei: One of the main pros of today’s system is that it has definitely enhanced transparency. It allows us to have a clear and definite view of how individual components of the organization are performing and also how the organization is faring as a whole.
Another benefit is the ability to monitor data for any form of discrepancies, as the system will alert us if the data is compromised. This saves time and cost in individually monitoring the process.
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