Poor knowledge of its product performance stirred Guinness UDV to build a system to better distribute its data.
Brewers of the dark ale found information about its products and sales was not transparent to its staff.
Updated sales information on its portfolio of products, which include Johnnie Walker, Baileys, Smirnoff, Bundaberg Rum, Kilkenny and Harp, was all but inaccessible to most of the staff at to the company, which was previously known as United Distillers Australia.
So the information services (IS) department, based in Sydney's Bondi Junction, started to collaborate with its sister organisations around the world to find a better way to distribute accurate, timely information.
"The aim was to share corporate knowledge. We started with structured information to build a B2E (business to employee) portal. It's an intranet-style application," Ben Tabell, IS manager, Guinness UDV Australia, said.
"We're looking to extend that current thinking so that it's a one-stop shop for data. An expression in the US is 'search and spin', which really means to capture and find learning and turn it into real action somewhere else."
Just as its Guinness is renowned for the time it takes to pour, it took the company time to build a business intelligence strategy that would fulfil its vision of corporate knowledge sharing, thereby transforming it from an 'information poor' to an 'information rich' business.
However, the local team is well on its way to completing the vision of a one-stop shop. Indeed, according to Tabell, amongst all the Guinness clans globally, the Australian operation has had more success at becoming information rich.
The first step involved building an intranet. Five years ago, the IS team of the Australian operation looked at what the head office and many of the group's offices around the world were doing and employed Cognos PowerPlay tools for the project.
Tabell said Guinness UDV Australia used Cognos tools, in part because of previous success with the vendor and also because it was consistent with global developments; standards are important for a culture of information sharing.
"We built a data warehouse, then we scrapped that and rebuilt it. It wasn't because the data warehouse wasn't any good. It just didn't follow the global method. So, if we wanted to make any changes, the process would've involved changing much of the data warehouse."
A business intelligence (BI) strategist from the UK was brought over to help with the process. Tabell could not disclose the expenditure Guinness outlaid on this expert, but described the investment as "horribly expensive".
"The result was we got the Rolls Royce of data warehouse. We invested a lot more than we could have, for immediate gain," he said.
Indeed, the intellectual property involved in this BI structure has generated commercial interest.
"We've been approached by other large multinationals interested in what we've done in building our data warehouse and our BI strategy," he said.
Part of the BI project involved improving the functionality of the original intranet to get the consistency of data the company requires. For instance, for around four years the company was still using data cubes provided by third-party companies. Then, in early 2000, the company embarked on the project of building its own data cubes to extend the BI environment.
An assembled team of six, half the IT team at the time, worked on a BI platform full time for a year. The team delivered it on time, and, in June 2001, the brewer went live with its full company financials available - including all its direct sales information, volumes and profits.
The system consists of five data warehouse stages built on a common data model, Tabell said.
"There was no need for anyone to race off to another market for advice or go through a big learning exercise," Tabell said. "It lets users publish knowledge in their space. There was no place for this before."
Using data accessed from the company's data warehouse, cubes can be built separately during the day, to avoid impacting the performance of any query that might be going on. Once the cube is built, and the processing of the query is complete, the data is transferred to the company's enterprise server, which distributes the information.
Those users lacking in tech-savvy can generate predefined reports in PDF format freely and easily, while more skilled users can manipulate and analyse the information through data cubes.
Tabell said Guinness UDV saw a return on investment on this project within the first three months.
"This [ROI] partly consists of our financial and sales analysts saving in time and energy. And partly it is leading to quality business decisions. That kind of ROI is hard to measure. Generating accurate data should lead to sales volume growth because [Guinness UDV can] start initiatives, based on analysis out of data warehouse, better define the initiative and act on this knowledge."
Equally important, the project has changed the culture of the organisation.
"Information sharing will mean a culture change in knowledge sharing globally and changing the way they operate. The management system changes the way we manage sales workforce - coach, develop and assist team to build on opportunities.
"The biggest benefit [we've seen] from BI is it enables [executives] to make better business decisions, with the strategic delivery of information to decision makers."
Looking ahead, the company is putting in place a number of initiatives to maintain its edge as information rich and continually improve the quality, consistency, speed and timeliness of the information.
"There is a greater onus now to make information available: uniform, accurate and timely," Tabell said.
To this end, Guinness UDV uses an information resource management (IRM) team, which is a small team accountable for the quality of the information.
Tabell also said the intranet, which 400 users in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney access daily via their Web browsers, is not user-customisable at the moment, though it is something the company is looking to rectify.
Guinness UDV Australia recently invested about $600,000 to track customer-centric investments, using Siebel tools.
The aim of this project is to see how effectively Guinness UDV products are executed in the field, by a geographic view of data. The investment is to help the company map out a $48 million spend on its merchandising for this financial year.
"The Siebel investment will help us to measure spend with customers and reward customers with discounts for behaviour around merchandising our products," Tabell said.
"Information from customers will feed into the data warehouse at the moment it's captured," he said. "We will see ROI in six to 12 months on that project."
Tabell described the project as a business investment, because the information Guinness UDV receives will improve executives' decision making processes, further adding to the richness of the company's information.