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Managing the Business with BI: A Spotlight Q&A with Michael Hegarty and Joe Beydoun of Lipari Foods

Originally published July 17, 2013

This BeyeNETWORK spotlight features Ron Powell's interview with Michael Hegarty, Corporate Business Strategy, and Joe Beydoun, Distribution Systems and Business Intelligence, from Lipari Foods. Ron, Michael and Joe discuss Lipari Foods business intelligence efforts.
Mike, can you tell us a little about Lipari Foods and your role at the company?

Michael Hegarty: We’re a family owned business since 1963. We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. We are a specialty food distributor in the retail and grocery segment. We sell to about 12 different states, whether it’s independent retailers, convenience stores, grocery stores or other manufacturers. We add value to the supply chain through store design, store management and consumer insights to make sure that they have the right product, that it’s going to be competitive, and that it’s what the consumer wants to buy to help drive traffic.

Mike, can you talk about your role at Lipari Foods?

Michael Hegarty: I am part of the team that is responsible to make things happen. When there are different requirements or new projects, we make it happen.

Joe, what are your responsibilities for distribution and business intelligence?

Joe Beydoun: On the distributor systems end, we basically handle all of the operations, warehousing of products, making sure logistically product gets to the customer after it’s sold and priced. On the business intelligence (BI) end, we have to get the intelligence and information to the strategists so they can make the proper decisions

Could both of you explain to me how you’ve been working with Information Builders and what specifically you are doing with their products?

Michael Hegarty: We started with Information Builders in 2009. We spent about a year reviewing different products and determining the best way to create a corporate enterprise reporting tool that allowed us to get data to the end user as quickly as possible, as accurately as possible, and also would be able to handle the many changes that are either brought on by customers or vendors throughout the supply chain or even internal associates at our company.

So were you looking for flexibility in a BI tool?

Michael Hegarty: Absolutely. In 2009, we licensed the WebFOCUS platform to utilize the technology that we already had in house. So we’re an IBM AS/400 shop running DB2. The platform just runs and it is bulletproof. You can change the name every six months as IBM has been doing, but at the end of the day, the tool really works. So we wanted to be able to harness the technology that we had. The benefit that we saw initially with Information Builders is the ability to not have to fork the data off our transactional system into a BI cube or a data mart. Being able to run over real-time data was something that, in our minds, sets them apart from everybody else. So you’re not ever a day behind or a week behind. If you change a database or add a field or add a file, it allows you to be able to incorporate that new data element relatively simply and really quickly. We were trying to figure out from a reporting perspective if we just wanted to create one-off reports, if we wanted PDFs, if we wanted to use Excel, and if we wanted to do dashboards or any of the drill-down reporting. Information Builders allowed us to handle everything with one application toolset. So it became the enterprise reporting tool whether it was dashboards, whether it was PDFs or Excel. It was just total content management regardless of the application.

How have you progressed since 2009?

Michael Hegarty: As everybody knows now, people can choose browsers on the fly, and BYOD (bring your own device) adds some complexity. We wanted to be able to be sure that we didn’t have any bottlenecks with that and were prepared for the future.

From a benefits perspective, what benefits have you seen from having Information Builders over your previous solution?

Joe Beydoun:
Prior to Information Builders, we used basic query and all data needs were handled by IT. So whenever someone needed to generate data or reports, they would have to go to IT. Any change had to come through IT. The disadvantage there was that many of our users didn’t even know what they wanted and didn’t even know what the data offered. And IT didn’t know the business side as much. So what was offered was pretty lacking from a strategy perspective. What Information Builders (IBI) gave us was the ability to build reporting, the ability to modify these reports, and put all the data with the user. That did turn out to be kind of a double-edged sword. We provided a lot of data elements for them, and now that they saw this new world of data, instead of completing the initiative, it has created new initiatives as users say, “Now we need this in all these new ways because we can manage our business a lot differently.”

But isn’t it great from an end-user perspective to really have them drive the requirements? It actually gives you a lot of flexibility by having the end users do it.

Joe Beydoun: It is, and it makes you feel good that your end users are actually using the tool and managing your business better now that they have the data because these are questions that previously were either guesses or part of a standard process at that time.

How large is your implementation and how many users do you have? And what types of users are they?

Joe Beydoun: Well, we have the developers that work with IT, and we’ve trained quite a few power users within the organization within each department to manage the more advanced requests. And, from there, the end users have developed a lot of ad hoc reporting, so we have about 200 to 300 users hitting the “submit” button and generating requests continuously. From there, these requests go out to our customer and vendor base so it could be up to 10,000 users accessing our data.

That’s a very large number. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned while working with Information Builders that you could share with us?

Joe Beydoun: The fact is that Information Builders is a very dynamic product. Whatever requests or initiatives come at us, it’s been able to handle it. Obviously, the expertise is necessary and some stuff takes a bit longer than most people expect – such as seeing beautiful dashboards. They tend to want it immediately. Those are the kinds of lessons – that you have to step back and  involve the resources initially so you can get to that end product. So that’s my biggest lesson managing BI. However, as a tool, it has done extremely well for us. It handles all of our BI needs from end to end.

Michael, how about from your perspective? Being responsible for strategy, are there any lessons that you have learned?

Michael Hegarty: Yes, it has really enabled us to integrate other software solutions that we’ve purchased without worrying about the reporting side. When the vendor of the purchased solutions say, “Okay, here’s what the software is going to cost  you, here’s what the implementation is going to cost you and, by the way, here’s the reporting tools you’re able to get the information from it,” all we have to do is check to see if the new system is going to be storing the data in a SQL database. Because WebFOCUS is able to read SQL, we’re able to use the enterprise reporting tool, and just attach it to that system. We’ve also used it in assimilating acquisitions. With the endless amount of data adapters that are available for WebFOCUS, if you go out and acquire somebody that’s running on a different platform – whether they’re running SAP or DB2 or Oracle – all you have to do is license that adapter and then you can translate reading to their system and writing from it. So it really allows it to do more than just business intelligence.

A lot of flexibility.

Michael Hegarty: Absolutely.

There are a lot of trends that we’re seeing in BI such as self-service BI and mobile BI. You mentioned bring your own device. Are those trends impacting your future plans at Lipari Foods.

Michael Hegarty: They definitely are, and it’s an IT nightmare unfortunately, just because everybody has such high standards now when it comes to the user experience. They don’t want to see text on a screen. They don’t want to see a 5250 emulator. They want to have the new GUI effect and the experience of dashboards and drilldowns and being able to utilize the product across multiple platforms. If somebody is running Windows 7 or Windows 8 or still running Windows XP or a Mac, we need to make sure that the tools that we’re able to deploy can be utilized across multiple devices since it’s touching our own users, customers and vendors.

Complexity – everything is getting more complex. It has been a pleasure talking to both of you, and I am sure you’ll continue to be successful with your Information Builders products at Lipari Foods.

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward series. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at rpowell@powellinteractivemedia.com. 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel.

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