At the Cutting Edge of BI

Feature Article | December 22, 2010 by Dieter Huber

Sharp products and BI analyses at AKE Knebel (photo: AKE Knebel)

Sharp products and BI analyses at AKE Knebel (photo: AKE Knebel)

Business intelligence is still the exception rather than the rule in the midmarket. Around 80% of small businesses and midsize companies analyze their business data using Microsoft Excel-based programs, according to a study by IT consultant Wolfgang Martin and the Institute for Business Intelligence (IBI), based in Ludwigshafen, Germany. In contrast, midsize company AKE Knebel uses SAP BusinessObjects XI to analyze information from all its important divisions.

AKE Knebel, a manufacturer of milling cutters and buzz saw blades from the southern German town of Balingen, employees some 550 people worldwide. It commissioned SAP partner basycs, headquartered in Kraichtal-Oberöwisheim, Germany, to implement the business intelligence solution. The result is a competitive edge through efficient enterprise management.

Data from SAP ERP for BusinessObjects XI

Manufacturers who analyze their data using business intelligence software can react faster to new market and customer requirements and drive their sales, production, and financial planning. Data is bundled and transformed into usable information, before it is evaluated in real time.

SAP BusinessObjects XI draws the required data from AKE Knebel’s SAP ERP application and a PDC system (plant data collection system) from the Stuttgart, Germany-headquartered company Interflex. Excel-based applications and less flexible standard ERP tools are now a thing of the past. In addition, SAP GTS (SAP Global Trade Services) guarantees ATLAS-compliant customs processing for foreign trade.

Read on: Visualization with SAP Crystal Dashboard Design

Crystal Dashboard Design visualizes data (graphic: AKE Knebel)

Crystal Dashboard Design visualizes data (graphic: AKE Knebel)

Visualization: Crystal Dashboard Design and Reports

As well as its flexibility in terms of data analysis, SAP’s business intelligence software offers, according to Uwe Widmann, CIO at AKE Knebel, “unbeatable value for money and great ease of use.” All key figures, query results, and analyses can be processed interactively and presented using clear graphics.

Visualization is achieved using SAP Crystal Dashboard Design (previously known as SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius), while AKE Knebel’s internal IT department creates interactive reports using SAP Crystal Reports. Analyses and reports can be sent out according to requirements, weekly, or monthly using the company’s intranet or e-mail. All this means that business users don’t have to perform complex queries themselves. What’s more, the SAP standard reports no longer have to undergo additional – and time-consuming – programming.

Widmann explains, “AKE Knebel’s goal is to make the company smarter and more transparent and to drive its development, all with the help of the SAP BusinessObjects intelligence platform. An important aspect is that the BI solution is very user-friendly – thanks to its graphical user interface – and the IT department can meet the business requirements for new BI processes rapidly and easily.”

Detailed sales information

Because sales orders are mapped in great detail, the company management and sales managers can see how the demand for products is developing in the sales regions compared with the previous year or in relation to demand planning.

The solution also supplies percentages related to individual customers and the sales employees responsible, as well as sales revenue information for each new customer and product. Furthermore, AKE Knebel can identify both market opportunities and the cause of declining sales figures. Customers benefit, too, because sales staff can now track the status of sales orders from construction through shipping.

Next page: Business Intelligence Keeps Track of Customers and Finances

Keeping an eye on investments and products (photo: AKE Knebel)

Keeping an eye on investments and products (photo: AKE Knebel)

Business intelligence for special customers

For production, the BI application provides information about incorrectly confirmed process steps or deviations between planned and actual times. As a result, malfunctions and delays in the production process can be rectified promptly. At the same time, evaluating production key figures gives the company impulses for improving manufacturing processes and delivery reliability.

Another plus point is that AKE Knebel succeeded in reducing its costs for purchasing and stockholding. Because most items are produced according to individual customer requirements, the warehouse often contains similar product variants. Now, materials planning can use key figures to tell whether many similar goods are in stock. Superfluous products are then turned back into raw parts and used as and when needed.

Keeping tabs on liquidity and investments

SAP BusinessObjects XI is also able to evaluate costs and revenues, as well as anticipated inbound payments. “We thus get an exact cash forecast, avoid liquidity squeeze, and can plan our investment projects with confidence. This is an important factor for financial planning, especially when markets are shrinking,” says Jürgen Daiber, CFO at AKE Knebel.

This means financial risks in the company’s export business can be identified fast and secured using, for example, Hermes covers (export credit guarantees by the German federal government). For the future, Uwe Widmann and his team plan to model a central dashboard that brings together key figures, key performance indicators (KPIs), and analyses from all business divisions in one user interface. This will give the company management an up-to-the-minute overview of the business as a whole at any time.

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