Blyth profits from business intelligence software

Blyth, one of the largest candlemakers in the U.S., says running business intelligence software on its iSeries helps them save big by helping it better manage its inventory.

The wholesale department of one of the largest candlemakers in the U.S. says the business intelligence (BI) software it runs on System i is saving the company millions of dollars by facilitating better inventory management.

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Oleg Troyansky, vice president of business information systems for the wholesale group of Blyth HomeScents International, said the company's obsolete inventory has been reduced by 90% through the use of BI software from Radnor, Pa.-based QlikTech International, which he also described as costing the company tens of thousands of dollars less than competing BI products.

Wax isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of perishables, but while candles are not fruit, Troyansky said time to market matters.

Instead of waiting months to analyze data manually to determine regional demand at stores such as Walmart and Linens 'n Things, Raleigh, N.C.- based Blyth Inc. uses software called QlikView to more quickly crunch and interpret abstract sales and accounting data in an aim to help managers make more adept logistical decisions.

Using QlikView, Troyansky evaluates inventory weekly, helping spread product more evenly to put candles on needy shelves, instead of in a warehouse to languish.

"Candles do get old, the longer they sit in the warehouse, the lower the quality," Troyanksy said. "And in time you can only get pennies on dollars through liquidation channels. We've previously accumulated mounds of candles, literally millions of potential dollars, taking up space and financial resources. QlikTech stops the problem much, much, much earlier. Today, if we see a product increase not supported by increased sales, we can say 'are we going in the right direction, or are we building obsolete inventory?' "

Troyansky runs QlikView on two iSeries 830 model production boxes, one in its primary data center in Wisconsin and one about 200 miles away in Minnesota. The System i servers handle transactional duties during the day, while QlikView applications are refreshed mostly at night, in the off time.

Troyanksy said it was about three years ago when he was looking to put together a self-analysis and reporting tool for a new division that could combine information previously provided by iSeries-based enterprise resource planning software Movex (from Intentia) and Business Explorer (BEx). Management wanted one combined tool.

"Our initial problem was how do we take information from the two systems, code it, and provide any meaningful analysis," Troyanksy said. "We ended up with a lot of Excel number crunching and we never knew our numbers on time."

The larger your business, the more difficult it can be to analyze data in an accurate and timely manner in the face of sheer volume. The potential value of BI software resides in an ability to mine for, and analyze, data from multiple sources in an automated way that saves time otherwise spent on interpretation.

The traditional obstacles to adopting BI software are the initial investment costs and the complexity of implementation: linking an extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) tool to a high-maintenance data warehouse, hooking that to an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube and then to a dashboard at the front end.

QlikTech's approach is to essentially skip the "T" and the L" portions of ETL implementation by floating data in memory and crunching it with the software. This approach was made much more effective through the relatively recent advent of 64-bit chip architecture and the continual decline of memory prices, according to Anthony Deighton QlikTech, vice president of marketing.

"The traditional BI software approach was designed 20 years ago when processors were slow and memory was expensive," Deighton said. "The only way you could produce reports was to precalculate all dimensions. This was a much bigger issue even 12 months ago, but the limitations on memory have essentially disappeared."

Deighton acknowledged there are other in-memory tools on the market, but that QlikView combines the important elements into a single suite.

High up-front costs and complex implementations were major barriers when Troyansky was shopping around for BI software.

The consulting fees for competing BI providers often overshadowed the cost of software, Troyanksy said. Namely the fees for Ottawa-based Cognos Inc., which offers corporate performance management tools, were predicted to cost three times the price tag on the software according to Troyansky. With Business Objects, another BI provider that Troyansky said he had familiarity with in a previous job, the interface was OK, but intuitive only for developers.

"[With Cognos], we couldn't spare the expense," Troyansky said. "[With Business Objects], it could be a seven-day exercise for an average developer to describe everything well to an average user. You need to work a week before you can even see the first report."

QlikTech charges about $1,000 per user but has alternative pricing models, including charging by usage.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer

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