Case Study: PerkinElmer Eliminates Business Intelligence Babel
PerkinElmer tapped a BI solution from Business Objects SA to consolidate its disparate BI holdings
- By Stephen Swoyer
- September 28, 2005
Mergers and acquisitions can wreak havoc on even the most resilient of IT infrastructures. In the case of PerkinElmer Inc., a health sciences research, development, and manufacturing company, a half-decade’s worth of intense M&A activity resulted in a business intelligence (BI) infrastructure that was insular, siloed, and of dubious value.
All wasn’t lost, however: PerkinElmer tapped a business intelligence suite from Business Objects SA to consolidate its disparate BI holdings. Today, PerkinElmer uses Business Objects’ XI suite and the company’s Crystal Enterprise XI software to report against and analyze data stored in its Oracle data warehouse, which includes historical data as well as data extracted from the company’s SAP R/3 ERP system. Assisted by consultancy and systems integrator Tallán Inc., PerkinElmer consolidated once siloed information into several marketing, sales, product, and services data marts. The result, says CIO Matthew Datillo, is an end to the BI Babel that long characterized PerkinElmer’s information analysis efforts.
“A lot of it had to do with getting a consolidated view of our business from a sales and orders perspective as well as a profitability perspective. We’ve grown through a number of mergers and acquisitions and we’ve had a number of reorganizations and consolidations, so getting a real view into the performance of our products was essential,” he explains. “The ERPs we connect to are SAP, Oracle 11i, and then a number of smaller, one-off standalone [systems that we] inherited by dint of acquisition or merger; and we needed a way to consolidate [them] and make it so we could report against [the information residing in] them.”
Enter Business Objects
That’s where Business Objects comes into the picture. PerkinElmer had an open RFP that involved several BI vendors, but Datillo and Bernie Kalmbach, the company’s director of IT, say they were most impressed with the Business Objects BI suite, in large part because it seemed to present the least disruptive learning curve in terms of deployment, management, and training.
This is in spite of the fact, both men acknowledge, that Business Objects wasn’t the least expensive solution on the table.
“The concept of the administration tools and the universes, the designer modules—all of those sorts of things, they were all relatively straightforward,” Kalmbach comments. “I think if you are a data warehouse expert in any regard, you could pick up the Business Objects technology pretty quickly.”
Unlike many Business Objects shops, PerkinElmer was not itself well-versed in the use of that company’s hugely popular Crystal reporting technologies, either. Crystal Reports—a less scalable version of Business Objects’ flagship Crystal Enterprise offering—has long been bundled with ERP systems, development tools, and other applications. As a result, many would-be adopters are already familiar with one key aspect of Business Objects’ technology stack even before they deploy the software. But even though PerkinElmer didn’t have much, if any, Crystal expertise in-house, Kalmbach says he wasn’t worried.
After all, Crystal has a reputation for ease-of-use among users and developers alike, and—in PerkinElmer’s case—it didn’t disappoint.
“I think most of the folks who did have experience with Crystal were more from the [Visual Basic] Microsoft background, where the folks who had worked on the data warehouse were more Java and PL SQL [experts],” he comments. “More likely, they had experience with [Oracle] Discoverer. But my perception was that it was relatively painless for the folks who had experience in the Oracle tool set, so for the developers, it was not a huge learning curve.”
Not Quite a Rip and Replace
PerkinElmer didn’t completely divest itself of its legacy infrastructure, however. For example, even though Business Objects markets an enterprise ETL tool called Data Integrator, PerkinElmer continues to use its own ad hoc ETL solution, based on Oracle’s PL SQL language.
“I think ETL is something that Bernie and his team would love to have, but we just can’t justify the cost at the moment,” says Datillo. The chief barrier, he concedes, is cost: unless Business Objects, Oracle or another ETL vendor decides to start giving away its ETL technology, Datillo and Kalmbach say PerkinElmer will remain an ad hoc ETL shop for the foreseeable future.
Ditto for PerkinElmer’s surfeit of analytic tools. “It was really kind of a mishmash analytically,” Datillo indicates. “We had Oracle’s analytical tool in one business unit; we had an older version of Business Objects in another; we had a tool called Diver in one part of the business, and that’s a simplified cube tool; and we had another acquisition that brought another analytic tool, too.”
Business Objects is certainly no slouch when it comes to analytics, but Datillo says PerkinElmer is still using Dimensional Insight’s Diver tool to handle a large chunk of its analytic responsibilities, mostly because of existing licensing arrangements, which make switching to a Business Objects-based OLAP solution difficult and expensive. “We still [haven’t] addressed some of the OLAP areas, but the reason for that may be time and energy and money. Diver… continues to be our in-house [OLAP], and we haven’t attempted to drive it out through the use of Business Objects’ OLAP technology; but it’s mostly a question of is it worth the energy and time to make the necessary investments to do so.”
At bottom, PerkinElmer’s BI effort involved the consolidation of two separate business units. With Tallán’s help, PerkinElmer built a single enterprise data warehouse (populated with domain-specific data marts) that company officials say provides a single, consistent view into its ERP data sources. These include the company’s SAP R/3 and Oracle 11i financial systems, in addition to data that once was housed in proprietary, standalone, or point ERP systems unique to various business units and subsidiaries. “As we integrated our two main business units, we had two independent warehouses and we merged those [into a single enterprise warehouse] and made the information more consistent,” Datillo explains. “That was kind of the impetus for saying, ‘We’ve made the information more consistent; now let’s do the same for the reporting tool set.’”
Of course, not just any reporting tool would do. PerkinElmer wanted a way to custom-tailor its reports for different line-of-business and end user constituencies. A custom-built tool wouldn’t do it, Datillo says, because the company needed to be able to support clueless knowledge workers, power users, and everyone else in between. This requirement gave Business Objects a serious leg up over the competition in the RFP process, he confirms. “Crystal very much fits this model. Looking at the best way to distribute information to each of the interested partners in our user community, you have different levels of users who have different access technologies, but with Crystal, we’re able to service everything from the basic level up to the super power users.”
Few data warehousing and BI implementations are entirely hassle-free, and PerkinElmer’s was no exception. In this respect, Datillo and Kalmbach say, the Business Objects portion of their effort was comparatively easy: it was the first stage, the transition to an enterprise data warehouse, which proved most difficult. “I think the focus area for our struggles were more in the area of metadata. I think it was more the design of the warehouse itself and the interpretation around the data and the community around those definitions and then validating that the data was accurate. We spent more time in those areas getting a BO universe up and running,” Kalmbach explains.
Now that its data warehousing and BI travails are behind it, what does PerkinElmer have to show for its efforts? Surprisingly, Datillo is reluctant to point to any specific cost savings—although the consolidation of his company’s data infrastructure and the institution of a consistent reporting solution have almost certainly helped to cut costs, he concedes.
Instead, he says, PerkinElmer prefers to take its ROI in the form of heightened business agility and improved top-to-bottom decision-making. “We use [our BI technology] to make decisions around product line profitability, and decisions around whether to continue to invest or not invest in specific areas. It’s always difficult to quantify the value of those decisions, but clearly without these tools we probably would not have made as insightful [of] decisions,” he explains. “The point is that [quantifying the ROI] isn’t something we worry about. I don’t know what we would do if we were trying to run this information out of our ERP systems without [our BI technology]. If you’re a large, complex organization and you want to have a consistent view of your organization, you need to have both [ERP and BI].”
At the same time, Datillo concludes, PerkinElmer’s BI refitting has made it a much savvier competitor. And this has almost certainly helped to increase profits. “One of the most difficult things to do in this biz is to make pricing decisions. We’ve made some pretty poor pricing decisions or non-decisions over the course of a number of years, but there are specific pricing details that are now made available. That clearly is what I would consider a hard benefit. We hadn’t felt the need or the compunction to go back in and determine it [in terms of ROI], but I would say that’s a clear hard benefit.”