Evolving beyond paper-based information gathering...
The larger a company becomes, the more difficult it is to ensure its workforce gets the information they need, when they need it.
That was the dilemma facing the UK-based speaker maker Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) two years ago.
The 46-year-old company had reached annual revenues of about £200m and was operating in about 60 countries worldwide, but it had a problem with the quality of information being gathered about its operations.
Regional teams were compiling their own business reports and emailing them to managers - but these reports often contained inconsistent and erroneous information.
"The dispersed nature of the teams drove us to have problems with reporting.
"We were stuck in the old ways of using Excel and Access, and sending out reports via email and expecting people to have the right information when they needed it - it didn't work," Paul Fryer, business systems manager with B&W Group, told silicon.com at the SAP Sapphire Now conference recently.
"Senior management were getting information from multiple sources in multiple ways, and they were spending half of the month trying to reconcile the differences between the reports they had.
"If you asked three of our organisations to come up with an inventory number for the same warehouse at that time, they would probably have come up with three different numbers.
"We were spending a lot of time running around reconciling and cleaning up, dealing with confusion."
Not only was B&W's information inconsistent, it was also not easily accessible: the company's sales reps had no easy way of getting at data from B&W's back-end systems ahead of meetings with customers.
"The reps and the sales teams weren't interacting with the customers in the way we wanted them to be," said Fryer.
"We needed to find a way of resolving our internal reporting issues and getting information into the hands of people close to our customers."
B&W chose to tackle its information problems by implementing...
...SAP's analytics and information management suite BusinessObjects to allow staff to analyse data and share information.
Moving to BusinessObjects allowed staff to compile business reports based on the same data stored on a central BusinessObjects server.
"We've got back central control of the sources of data. What's nice is that if you run a report in one part of the company here, it matches the one produced in another - it's working with the same raw data," Fryer said.
BusinessObjects also provides staff with access to data and reports both in and out of the office.
"We've also been able to disperse how staff get at it [this information]. You have about 10 different ways of connecting to BusinessObjects - through laptops, desktop PCs, tablets, phones or through the browser."
B&W sales reps can access information through the BusinessObjects Explorer app, which Fryer said allows them to better prepare for meetings with customers.
"It gives them access to sales data - what has the customer been doing, what stock do we currently have available in the warehouse, what is in the customer's outstanding order books - that's the typical sort of information that somebody walking into a customer should know," he said.
"Historically they had this information on a piece of paper but it would be two weeks out of date or they just wouldn't know. Now we are finding they don't even think before they walk in now, they are sitting there with their iPads and iPhones and answering the [customer's] questions on the fly.
"People like it because it's so intuitive and very easy to use. I have people who couldn't put a table together in Excel who are quite happy shoving data around on their iPads or laptops in Explorer and coming up with the answers they want.
"With no training whatsoever, people can go and get what information they want, when they want it."
B&W also provides information from BusinessObjects to senior executives, such as profitability analysis and group reporting, and is looking at how it could start serving information on product quality, such as numbers of returns and faults.