There's something endearing about listening to the story of a company that was born out an enthusiast's frustration with existing technology. Arc'teryx falls squarely into that category. This week, I met with William Jackson, who heads the company's BI team. From the Arc'teryx blurbs:
Located in the Canadian Coast mountain wilderness, Arc’teryx is a technical high-performance outerwear and equipment company with a relentless commitment to design, craftsmanship and performance.
Our driving purpose is to create apparel and gear that gives users the confidence to perform at the point of extreme need. Named for ARCHAEOPTERYX LITHOGRAPHICA, the first reptile to take a bold evolutionary leap by developing feathers for flight. Arc’teryx is evolution in action.
Jackson described the company as vertically integrated which includes design, manufacture, retail and wholesale distribution with e-commerce but no mobile application at this time. Acr'teryx employs about 450 people spit between head office and the design center, another 450 in manufacture and then about 100 other in various distribution and other roles.
Owing to the specialized nature of the business, the company developed its own applications that cover everything from design through to point of sale. However, when it came to analysis, Arc'teryx had a false start:
We needed a product that would give us insight into how our sales forecasting and demand planning were working. We tried to accomplish that with Crystal Reports and with Cognos BI but it wasn't successful implementation for Cognos and the information we were getting via Crystal was static. Data loads were taking too long and prone to error.
Experience suggests that once a company has been bitten then they tend to be more cautious the next time around. In this case, Arc'teryx wanted to be sure that the chosen supplier would not only help develop what they needed but would also make the effort to understand the business. I wanted to understand how that worked, especially given the competitive landscape.
At the time, Tableau wasn't super enterprise friendly. It was difficult to deploy and manage across a reasonably sized organization. Whereas Qlik seemed just way more mature in the sense that you could easily pull in your active directory, you could easily manage user access to both dashboards and then the objects within that and they're the best and most responsive partner for doing a proof of concept with us. It was a really good relationship right from the start for us.
Arc'teryx started out with a replacement for the Crystal report as that was something everyone needed but also it would provide the starting point for incremental development of the sales dashboard Arc'teryx was aiming towards. It took roughly six months form start to result which Jackson believes was reasonable given the complexities of managing the data from the bespoke ERP system while meeting enhanced requirements like dynamic drilling into what previously had been a static report.
In our QlikView deployment, all the data is loaded in the most granular level and then all of the charts are presented but with the objects doing all the aggregation. Users have the ability to easily dive into what they're seeing and ask questions like: what are my sales by country and what are my sales by channel, by customer, by order type. They can split up information in a bunch of different ways and figure out where they're over and under performing versus targets. So really they're self serving the information they need.
I was curious to learn how the BI team responds to fresh needs because again, experience tells us that once users get value from information, they ask for more. Arc'teryx provides users with a sandbox environment where they can play with data combinations as a form of rough design. In turn, Jackson's team work directly with users to flesh out requirements from a common set of objects so that they can get the maximum amount of re-use from both the data and the visualizations that users need.
Rather than try cram everything onto a single dashboard, the BI team helps users create tabbed boards that address specific needs. That way, data integrity is maintained while allowing users to focus on the information they need.
Jackson provided useful insights into how QlikView has changed the way the business consumes data. In the 'old' world, the only people who would see the sales dashboard were a handful of executives. Even then, the information would be distilled into another report that could be accessed via a web browser. Today, Arc'teryx has business analysts everywhere in the business.
Usage ballooned and I reckon we went from just five or so users to well over a hundred very quickly.
So what's next? Qlik is making the dual play of the traditional, desk side QlikView while moving more towards a cloud centric view of the world. That opens up possibilities for mobile distribution, which in turn could expand usage even further.
For the rest of this year were looking at transitioning our QlikView apps into Qlik Sense where it makes sense, but part of that will probably involve assessing what we have in View versus what we have in Sense and seeing if there is anything that we can get rid off. I'm pretty sure that there are few dashboards that are underutilized and we just need to do the analysis on that and then kill those where necessary. It's a rationalization which you'd expect at this stage of development.
This has clearly been a successful deployment but the big takeaway for me comes in the way in which QlikView usage grew so rapidly while Arc'teryx retained the best of what it had done in the past. It will be interesting to see how Arc'teryx parses the potential for QlikSense, how that alters the BI landscape and how thew business is improved as a result.