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  • EnterpriseWorx IT

Ellerines implements Kognitio Analytical Platform in support of merchandise, supply chain and BI exc

Ellerine Holdings has invested in an enterprise data warehouse, powered by a high performance in-memory analytical platform to streamline its merchandising and customer relationship activities and underpin its role as a growth engine for listed parent company, African Bank Investments (Abil).

Ellerine Holdings consists of six furniture brands – Geen & Richards, Beares, Ellerines, Wetherlys, Furniture City and Dial-a-Bed. It has the largest furniture retail footprint in Southern Africa, operating more than 1 000 furniture stores and employing over 12 000 people.

When Abil took over the debtors book of Ellerine Holdings in 2010, the group restructured its operations so as to focus on its core business – furniture retailing. Operational excellence in merchandise planning and supply chain management was identified as key focus areas for improvement in the group’s retail efficiencies.

Ellerine Holdings’ Chief Information Officer Ian Child says an enterprise data warehouse was seen as the foundation for integrating information across the group’s operations and improving data flows in an unsynchronised environment. The Kognitio Analytical Platform was selected as the underlying technology because of its massive parallel processing ability, relatively low cost of implementation and limited support requirements. “It was also possible to get-up and running faster than with traditional technology,” he says.

Ellerines embarked on a proof of concept exercise, simulating some data crunching challenges that had been experienced during the debtors’ ledger conversion to African Bank. “We were very impressed with Kognitio’s ability to grind through masses of data in minutes compared to the many hours and sometimes days it took on high-end relational databases,” says Child.

According to Ellerines IT Executive: Business Intelligence, Stefan Terblanche, the group had been struggling to deliver on-time, trustworthy data to business managers on the legacy infrastructure. “The original system had been designed to aggregate decentralised key performance measures in our 1 000 stores, and batch them overnight into our central information systems. We were running out of night-time and could not land actionable data by start of business the next day.

“This frustrated users and was at odds with our aim of creating operational excellence. The Business Intelligence (BI) Department spent lot of time following up queries and reconciling numbers that balanced at one point but did not match to another point. The focus on improving merchandise and supply chain processes and systems identified weaknesses in the efficiency of legacy systems that we could no longer tolerate.”

Some significant enhancements were made in moving data from the branches to a central data store developed by our enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors. This environment has since matured and stabilised and become Ellerines’ primary data source for the Kognitio Analytical Platform. “We load the Kognitio staging area through ongoing triggers and take on data into the warehouse data structures once a day,” says Terblanche. “This has removed our dependency on batch jobs that could be carried out only at the end of the branch day.

“We have now arrived at a sweet ‘SPOT’ or ‘single point of truth’, where we can publish timely and accurate consolidated information across operational, tactical and executive communities. The data warehouse is abstracted from the data sources so, in the future, as we evolve our transactional environment to centralised systems, we expect almost seamless integration into the standard industry data models (based on the Association for Retail Standards – ARTS – model ) implemented on the Kognitio Analytical Platform.

According to EnterpriseWorx Chief Technology Officer, Sean Longhurst, Ellerines chose Kognitio chiefly because of its performance. “Kognitio is the pioneer in in-memory massively parallel processing, with many independent units running in parallel. And it is still considered the fastest on the market,” says Longhurst. “This makes it a leader in the big data space. Because Kognitio has an open data model, existing data structures can be ported on to the new platform, without discarding the initial investment.

“Owing to the enhanced data flows and blistering speeds at which Kognitio can consume, process and make data available to users, it streamlines business processes. For example, some business intelligence (BI) models that were available to managers only 24-48 hours after the fact are now on hand by start of business the next morning.”

“Our business is enabled by technology,” says Child. “We understood we were embarking on a substantial data warehousing implementation. This is typically an expensive exercise that can drag on for years with a raft of support people. We’ve done it in 14 months on a thin level of support and with value being released as the system became available. That’s a huge efficiency saving. I commend our BI team and EnterpriseWorx for this exceptional delivery.”

Stefan Terblanche believes Kognitio is a strong foundation for the BI ecosystem across the 14 key communities in the Ellerines business. “We have tackled this project in a holistic manner with strong reference to the DAMA data management framework and our business intelligence competency centre,” he says. “This implementation has allowed us to significantly improve data flows as well as bring extract, transform, load (ETL) and database administration functions in-house. Our execution has improved and we are able to respond quickly to our internal customers.

“A large part of our success stemmed from implementing a single point-of-sale system across almost all our brands in South Africa. We are busy with a similar project across our foreign operations. This will bring greater harmony to our disparate world of multiple systems. System rationalisation has given us a fighting chance to sweat our data assets.

“In the past, Ellerines tended to follow the technology wave, but we decided to go for cutting edge technology and show some boldness by selecting Kognitio. We wanted to standardise our environment and be able to seamlessly scale up in the future. We are impressed with the massively parallel processing power of Kognitio, a ‘new age’ analytical platform. Kognitio also has some exciting additional functionality and enhancements coming through that we can benefit from in the future.”

Working closely with information solutions specialists, EnterpriseWorx, and implementing the ARTS data model on Kognitio, Ellerines was able to bring data from third parties into a ‘single point of truth’ with limited pain.

Running as an appliance, the Ellerines Kognitio Analytical Platform, using 24 HP blade servers, has recently been expanded from 2 terabytes (TB) to 4 TB capacity, and is expected to stabilise at around 6 TB. It is successful in running massive queries such as aggregation on audit tables with 1-billion rows, and has allowed Ellerines to venture into more real-time data flows and analysis. “Kognitio positions us to capitalise on the Big Data revolution,” says Terblanche.

Ellerines has also implemented QlikView as an enterprise BI tool. “We have found it complements our Kognitio implementation very nicely,” says Terblanche. “With the help of EnterpriseWorx we have built some outstanding QlikView models that have brought positive changes to our key internal communities.

“We run centralised merchandise planning, with the aim of running stock at the lowest levels needed to meet customer requirements. We can now crunch through the data, see how many of each item are carried by a branch and replenish stock to keep the display areas full. This is part of a bigger supply chain initiative to reduce store space through lower stock-holding while upgrading to higher grade retail space and getting more feet through the store.

“Ellerines is bedding down a massive logistics implementation across South Africa and the Kognitio implementation has helped to smooth out and resolve some of the initial teething problems.

“Kognitio is the foundation of the Ellerines BI ecosystem, and it allows us to incrementally improve our BI environment. This technology will deliver significant benefits to the group as we capitalise on our investment.

“EnterpriseWorx’ are highly skilled in all BI and data management disciplines. They have a solid reputation in the market and a pragmatic and hands-on approach to delivering value. They operate without some of the trappings of bigger firms, and have proved to be a valuable catalyst in the execution of the assignment. Our BI evolution would not have been possible without their involvement.

“Going forward, Ellerines will be using Kognitio to underpin our master data management initiatives and to further improve the quality of our data. Later this year, we will be integrating customer information so as to be able to access a single view of the customer across multiple touch points. This will allow us to service and understand our customers better while continually improving our processes.

“Our BI journey is an evolution and we have visibly matured as a result of the foundation created by Kognitio. From here we will build incrementally to reach a position of excellence and to deliver exceptional value to the business.”

About EnterpriseWorx

EnterpriseWorx is an information solutions specialist. It provides data management and business intelligence solutions which enable executives to make informed decisions based on accurate, reliable, consistent information and business insight.

The company undertakes software engineering projects that enable it to integrate new and legacy applications and systems into a cohesive whole. It has also developed several niche products designed for specific applications. For more details, visit:www.enterpriseworx.co.za.

About Kognitio

Kognitio is driving the convergence of Big Data, in-memory analytics and cloud computing. Having delivered the first in-memory analytical platform in 1989, it was designed from the ground up to provide the highest amount of scalable compute power to allow rapid execution of complex analytical queries without the administrative overhead of manipulating data. Kognitio software runs on industry-standard x86 servers, or as an appliance, or in Kognitio Cloud, a ready-to-use analytical platform. Kognitio Cloud is a secure, private or public cloud Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), leveraging the cloud computing model to make the Kognitio Analytical Platform available on a subscription basis. Clients span industries, including market research, consumer packaged goods, retail, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, gaming, media and utilities.

To learn more, visit www.kognitio.com and follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.