Smoke and mirrors: tobacco data warehousing

British American Tobacco Australia (BATA) has implemented an enterprise data warehousing solution with a hand from local IT company Management Information Principles (MIP), to tackle the mammoth task of consolidating the activities of 28,000 customers, under a recent merger, into a single view.

BATA (the product of the 1999 merger between tobacco giants Rothman of Pall Mall and WD & HO Wills) had three months to unify two separate SAP data warehousing systems without the headache of duplicating data, according to BATA business IT manager Reg Martin.

Delivering the project on time from March to May 2000, the $1.5 million national data warehouse allows BATA's primary business units from sales and marketing, to finance and supply chain management to use the system.

The system provides real-time access to information critical to tobacco industry companies such as internal and competitor product pricing.

"The market in Australia for tobacco products is very price sensitive, so we need to keep a daily view of activities to monitor how we are tracking, and we can take corrective action if necessary," Martin said. Data on BATA's 28,000 customers comes from service stations, supermarkets, corner shops, liquor shops, hotels and clubs.

The implementation saw a joining of individual SAP systems from Rothman and WD & HO Wills, to create a "bucket view" of two sets of national sales information minus the duplication, he explained.

BATA will add more comprehensive information views to the system in phase two this year, such as market research statistics from AC Nielson, retail and channel sales reports by area representative, manager or region, and more granular customer information, like demographics, to aid in customised marketing campaigns.

Martin said the organisation is reaping the rewards of having real-time online access to key business information. "Key business people now have the information they need, such as price sensitivity, competitive data and price changes in the market, on a daily basis." He expects to see a return on investment by the end of 2001.

Martin said the main technical hurdle was to convert the data from both companies into a unified system without any duplication. To do this, BATA took a clone of Rothmans' system, extracted and fed in information it needed, like brand orders, for a consolidated view of each customers' data. BATA eliminated duplicated data such as customer contact details that appeared because the merged companies had 90 per cent of the same customers.

The project also presented an organisation-wide learning curve -- the need for key business staff to learn how to use MIP's data mining software tools. BATA's 50 internal users are now mastering the capabilities of MIP's query and reporting tool MicroStrategy, designed for sales and customer data extraction.

BATA is also using Informatica's PowerCenter product to provide connectivity to its SAP environments.

MIP, a specialist data warehousing consultancy, won the BATA contract over Seagate Software and Business Objects as it offered both user support and strategic IT consulting.

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