Markus Fehrmann helps Ritchie Bros gavel toward greater auctioneering efficiency with analytics

By | 4 minute read | October 29, 2020

Markus Fehrmann manages finance systems and corporate management reporting for Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, the world’s largest auctioneer of heavy equipment, based in Burnaby, British Columbia. In addition to running live auctions all over North America, the company is also a leader in online auctions. In fact, Ritchie Bros. recently reported that its online marketplace had its busiest 12 months ever, with over USD 1 billion sold through its IronPlanet website.

Inside Ritchie Bros., Ferhrmann is known as the finance, data and IBM Planning Analytics with Watson expert. “The finance teams come to me or bring requests from business leaders,” he says. “I give them access to certain data sets, work with them to build the data sets and bring the data into Planning Analytics to build the budgets along with ongoing reports.”

How to establish a single source of truth

From an enterprise perspective, Markus Feharmann also works with other IT teams to coordinate and align data sets that track financial performance. Planning Analytics with Watson also takes data from the company’s ERP system and serves as “the one source of truth” for financial performance, including incentive pay that is tied to performance. “Our budget resides in Planning Analytics,” he says. “Only by comparing actual expenditures versus the budget do we know what our performance is.”

A key application for Planning Analytics with Watson is measuring the performance of live auctions to forecast how auctions will perform in the future. The tool predicts auction performance with a high level of accuracy, and this has been critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Auction yard managers need to know how the live auction is going to go,” says Fehrmann. “If it’s going to be a big auction, they have to staff up.” Smaller auctions can be staffed at an appropriate level to minimize the number of people participating in the live event.

How to use analytics to manage change and save time

During his tenure with Ritchie Bros., Fehrmann notes that “one of the frequent challenges we have is that our company changes, even down to the basic level of organizational structure.” For example, Ritchie Bros. acquired an online platform three years ago, which brought in new data sets and systems that required integration with the parent business. “With Planning Analytics, we had the flexibility to make code changes, change hierarchies and get data without impacting our ERP system. It smoothed the changes out because the time to change things is shorter in Planning Analytics than in our ERP platform.”

Planning Analytics with Watson helps the sales and operations team plan the allocation of auction volume. “In the past, the allocation was done manually and required hours and hours of work,” Ferhmann remembers. “I came up with an allocation algorithm that we built into Planning Analytics, based on historical trends, with the ability to adjust and lock exports for each country. That cut out days from the previous method. Now, we have a tool that saves our people time so they can do more interesting things.”

To make Planning Analytics with Watson even more accessible to the company’s users, Fehrmann installed a new graphical interface. “When people go into their planning area, they can see what they need instead of reading the text button,” he says. “It’s just utilizing what was in there to tweak the web sheet and make it graphical. It looks cool and I am proud of it because most users can get in and out of it very quickly.”

Detecting data connections with the ingenuity of Sherlock Holmes

Markus enjoys the intellectual challenge of connecting information and takes inspiration from how the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes solves problems. “You can see Sherlock think through his deductions by connecting the different data sets that he sees,” he says. “You see a text message pop up, see him looking at a person and conclude, ‘this is the answer to that.’ We have the tools today to augment human intelligence. Although you might not have the information in your head, if you have a simple and quick way to get that information, now you become the superstar — without having to be a genius or remembering everything.”

After relying on Planning Analytics with Watson for business performance analysis and reporting, Ferhmann is seeking ways to automate reporting processes to save time and provide information to decision makers faster. “We’re moving towards IBM Cognos Analytics because we want to get to the point where we can blast out dashboards and reports on a daily basis,” he says. “We’re moving down that path now and it’s very exciting.”

Becoming an Analytics Hero to help and inspire others 

Through managing Planning Analytics with Watson for Ritchie Bros., Markus Fehrmann derives a high degree of professional satisfaction from making work easier for his colleagues. “To me, being an Analytics Hero is building the tools to make other people awesome,” he enthuses. “You don’t want to be in the spotlight because in IT, if something goes wrong, that’s when the spotlight shines on you. You need to disappear into the background. When you achieve something, it is really quite magical. Because now people can get to work.”

This story is part of Analytics Heroes, a series of profiles on leaders transforming the future of business analytics.