Created in 1988 by two ex-DHL employees, B&H Worldwide is a successful multi-national aerospace logistics organisation, employing hundreds of employees across the globe. Essentially, the UK-headquartered firm provides comprehensive time critical logistics solutions for the management of aerospace components.
Operating worldwide from strategically located hubs and supported by a highly-specialised global ‘Aircraft on Ground' (a term in aviation maintenance when a problem is serious enough to prevent an aircraft from flying) centre, it provides support for critical airline service needs - 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Its customers include airlines, space part stockists and repair vendors.
To quote the company's group head of finance, Paul Wakefield, the company is all about time-critical solutions for the management of aerospace components across the globe. But when he came on board four years ago, he was immediately struck by the number of disparate systems and how siloed data was.
That was a problem, as there were two big issues the company needed to deal with:
One, we're very high-volume, low-value shipments; we do do some very big shipments, but we still do quite a bit of work with the DHL and FedExs of the world. In some instances, we might be moving just one important nut or bolt across the globe. To put it in perspective, for our operational tool, rather than having, as you would have today, one global instance of an ERP system, we had seven different versions in seven different regions. Similarly, the finance system was quite old; there's no way of just going in and pulling a consolidated view of everything. We had no timely, automated information upon which we could understand what was going on.
Wakefield is also very much against waste and inefficiency, and dislikes lots of manual processes. So it was particularly irksome that if it wanted to understand something as basic as how many jobs had been done over a month or which customers were doing those jobs, finding out would take at least two days at the end of each month. That delay meant company leadership were also waiting two days for information.
After agreeing that the situation needed improving with his colleagues in IT, Wakefield set out to find a way to better access and consolidate data and so save time and decrease what he calls "waste". The most cost effective solution was deemed to be procuring a tool that sat on top of B&H Worldwide's existing systems and enabling it to interrogate data in what he calls a "sensible and a timely manner". After a market evaluation exercise, the Qlik Business Intelligence tool was identified as the best fit to do that.
Appealing to senior leadership
Reasons Wakefield says that the decision for choosing Qlik included the overall look and feel, which allied to the way even quite complex back office data could be visualised and put onto management dashboards (B&H Worldwide has ‘Sales', ‘Debtors' and ‘Unbilled' as key ones).
I think if you're trying to present information to a set of senior people in the business they're looking at lots of things all the time, and particularly in our business they are very visually driven. They want to understand the trend, they don't need to be digging around. Conceptually and practically, it's very straightforward to do an analysis and create what I would say is quite a cool chart and graphic and dashboard in a very short time.
The tool has now been in place since late 2017. What difference has it made? Have those data problems and inefficiencies been solved? It's a definite yes, according to the company's group managing director Gary Wilson, who has said:
Having the ability to analyse our data quickly, concisely and presented in an easy to read format has helped us manage our business more effectively.
We asked Wakefield to dig down a bit deeper into this. He started by pointing out it was not really possible to give specific numeric values as to the improvement, as there's no ‘before' to compare the Business Intelligence ‘after' to:
It's hard to put numbers and figures on here because we had nothing to start with. But if I look at the visibility and the transparency we now have across the whole group at essentially the touch of a button, it's very powerful and very insightful. And now we've got insight about how the operation is performing across the group, which helps us to keep customers.
He also points to extra analytical capability that enables the company to not only win new customers and develop more competitive pricing, but also encourage global thinking. Furthermore, best practice in other parts of the world, not just the UK, is now much more accessible.
Retaining customers during COVID-19
A metric that has emerged that was unexpected, but very welcome, he adds: an end to what he sees as "myth busting". What he means by this:
Rightly or wrongly, finance and sales often dispute the numbers, even though they're basically from the same system. We used to have the sales guy present his numbers, and then the finance guy would present theirs, but no-one believed finance because the sales guy was saying they were wrong.
Well, hang on a sec. That can't be right, when everything's coming from the same place. I think you've got to get through those organisational myths, and be able to share data in a transparent way so that you'll be able to break those kind of misconceptions.
Finally, the tool has also more than proven its worth this year during COVID disruption, he adds.
If we didn't have this in place now, we would have a problem because we just wouldn't have been flexible and nimble enough to react to something as impactful on our sector as this.
In a Pandemic, you might not win new customers, but you definitely don't want to lose any. If we can maintain our service and make sure that people understand where their equipment is in a timely manner, and if we can keep tracking the people doing what they're supposed to be able to do, that keeps customer service high - and you're not giving customers any reason to leave you.