Typically, when a vendor has significant product news, they reach out with embargoed press releases. Zoho reached out with a customer. I'll take that any day.
How impactful are these new features? Why not ask Claudio Cañete Cabeza, Business Development Director with the Premo Group? Prior to our video chat, Cabeza commented on Zoho's new DataPrep capabilities:
While we used to spend a lot of time writing and maintaining custom scripts to import data, fix errors and transform the data, the new platform has helped us eliminate custom scripts in manual data preparation. With Zoho DataPrep, we easily found the errors in the data and fixed them all from within the tool, and are now able to completely automate data preparation.
Life as a modern automotive supplier - "Imagine the amount of data we have"
Sounds intriguing, but Cabeza's Zoho Analytics story starts a few years earlier. Premo Group is a well-established, tier-two automotive supplier with a specialized niche in magnetics. The company has succeeded for 50+ years by mass producing all kinds of automotive magnetics, especially low frequency antennas. One emerging area? Magnetics to power electronics in hybrid and electric cars. But as Cabeza explained, Premo Group needs to apply data in new ways if they want to adapt and thrive.
Cabeza is based in their headquarters in Malaga, Spain, but Premo Group's 1,200+ employees span three major plants, one in China, one in Vietnam and one in Morocco. Cabeza's own role has grown with the company. He started at Premo Group fourteen years ago as a mass production engineer, before switching over to sales. Now, he is Business Development Director, managing projects until deliverables are completed. So how does BI fit into the picture?
Every magnetic Premo Group produces is typically a custom solution. At any given time, they could be handling 350 custom projects simultaneously. Yes, that creates a data problem. Cabeza explained:
Due to the automotive cycles, one component takes around two or three years to be validated and go to mass production. These must live together with the mass production already running in the plant. So imagine the amount of data that we have.
Cabeza has a team of around 100 people that handle these projects, from project managers to engineers. Before Cabeza's team had modern BI, they were chasing data. Cabeza:
They need to handle all this data together, coming from our ERP, our project system, our purchasing system. Without business intelligence, this was really much more complicated. We were living in the past.
That past is familiar to many: cobbling together Excel spreadsheets, pried from far-flung data sources. It's a different story today:
Not anymore. Today, we need a report, we can just click 'refresh.'
A big accomplishment - but that doesn't guarantee better decisions. What kinds of data-informed decisions is Premo Group able to make now?
Everything. Reports coming from Zoho Analytics, today, live in our board management reports. Business directors of their different departments, operation directors, supervisors in the production lines, project managers - they take decisions based on reports coming from Zoho Analytics every day.
Making better decisions with data - two real-life examples
Cabeza shared two examples. One was high-level, involving a stakeholder who was considering selling. Within two days, they had a report from Zoho Analytics with all the data the stakeholder needed (based on the outlook, he decided to wait). Consider the data flow involved: Cabeza told me that they can pull order data from their customers' web sites via JSON fields, scraped from the web into Zoho Analytics. That data is consolidated, then relevant data is pulled into Zoho Analytics from Premo Group's SAP ERP and Salesforce systems. Cabeza says that type of comprehensive analytics provides a hedge against uncertainty - as this stakeholder found. Another example?
We have one customer in Germany, that last week, told us demand is going to double. He wanted to check the capacity available in our production plant in Morocco. So our production supervisor went to Zoho Analytics, and looked at the deliveries of this production line in the last six months... Based on this information from the past, we were able to present to this customer the possibilities of the current line, and the type of investment if a new line was needed.
Customer trust is earned through such accurate projections. Simply promising "we'll have the capacity" doesn't cut it. And taking measurements across the line is time consuming.
The report had so much detail... We programmed Zoho to make a snapshot on a daily basis of what was happening in our production line. This was very easy to do. This is collected automatically by Zoho - the customer was really impressed. Not only did we have real measurements; we were getting data from the past and profiling it to the future.
How Zoho's new BI platform stacks up - a customer view
I like asking old school customers about new features. They can be relied on to help us understand which enhancements are essential, which might be overkill, ahead of their time, or, worse yet, marketing gimmickry. Premo Group qualifies as an old school Zoho customer; they've been using Zoho Projects since 2011, and Zoho Analytics the last three years. You've already seen Cabeza's enthusiastic DataPrep quote.
If DataPrep had been around three years ago, Cabeza assured me: it would have saved his team a huge amount of time developing custom SQL queries, as they pulled data from different systems. He'll certainly be leaning on Zoho DataPrep for any future projects. An AI/ML data prep tool sounds a lot more appealing than SQL scripting. One possibility? They are looking at an "Industry 4.0" type project, grabbing sensor data from production machines in real-time: "This would completely change the way we monitor and we control the production lines," says Cabeza.
One aspect of Zoho's new BI platform is "Augmented Analytics" with Zia, Zoho's conversational AI. Is that relevant to Cabeza's work now, or perhaps further down the road? Cabeza says he's excited about pulling historical data - including sensor data - into machine learning systems like Zia. One obvious use case? Preventative maintenance. While his team is not using Zia deeply right now, he has "checked the possibilities." Cabeza hopes to work with Zoho to get information more easily into Zia from Premo Group's older ERP system, where the data structures are a bit clunky:
Once the data is really well tuned up (related to Zia's correct matching of fields and tables to synonyms/words/topics) and you train Zia correctly, you can have really good surprises coming coming from it.
Okay, so how about Zoho Data Stories, which enables the embedding of live reports and dashboards into web sites and presentations? That's already a win for Cabeza. He has embedded Zoho Analytics into Zoho Projects, Salesforce, and even SAP. Two big wins: users get the data within their environments, and big licensing dollars can be saved, as those users don't necessarily need a full ERP user license, for example. Since every "indirect" employee in Premo has a Zoho Projects license, the embedded reports go a long way:
They will see the data coming from Zoho analytics in real time. They don't have to log in to another place; they don't have to go to another app... This is saving a lot of money; you cannot imagine.
So there you have it, a customer view on a product release. I'm about to line up another Zoho BI customer. We'll dig into their take on the new release as well, and how their business is changing with analytics.