To drive its competitiveness in a global market, Airgas wanted to enable its decision-makers to uncover and act on growth opportunities quickly.
Airgas worked with IBM® Services to supercharge its analytics processes—enabling decision-makers to drill down into its business data and identify new opportunities rapidly.
84%faster ad hoc queries help uncover up- and cross-selling opportunities
50%faster overnight data loads enable timely, effective decision-making
78%faster setup for test environments helps deliver new insights rapidly
Business challenge story
Supporting nationwide growth
In the wake of the global economic slowdown, businesses operating in competitive, globalized markets are looking for innovative ways to drive growth. Increasing customer value is a powerful way to achieve this goal—and leading enterprises are always searching for opportunities to better service their existing clients.
Sandeep Sehgal, Manager – Business Analytics, Airgas, Inc., comments: “We steer the business based on a wealth of data around sales forecasts, supply chain plans, financial plans, and more. To boost our growth, we wanted to maximize the value of every customer relationship while minimizing our operational costs—and we needed to dig deeper into our data to uncover these opportunities.”
For many years, Airgas has relied on SAP® ERP business systems to manage its operations from end to end—including applications for finance, controlling, sales and distribution, marketing, supply chain management, cylinder management and order management.
“Our business has grown rapidly through acquisition,” continues Sehgal. “As a result, it was taking an increasing amount of time to run the overnight batch reports that our decision-makers depend on—and adding new reports was out of the question. To enable faster access to reports for our vast business community, we looked for a way to accelerate our reporting processes.”
Timely insights fuel faster decision-making
To solve the challenge, Airgas decided to migrate its SAP Business Warehouse reports to the lightning-fast SAP HANA® platform—enabling timely insights.
“Naturally, batch and query performance were two of the key criteria when it came to selecting our new analytics platform,” recalls Sehgal. “Our aim was to make key data from our business systems available for analysis as quickly as possible, and with an ultra-fast in-memory analytics platform, we are confident we have the solution we need to serve our business community.”
To help it to steer its migration to the new platform and reduce the business risk of the process, Airgas partnered with an expert team from IBM Services.
Sehgal comments: “Working with the IBM Services team was a very positive experience, and we were particularly impressed with the team’s project management skills. At the start of the engagement, IBM drew up a very detailed plan for the migration, and at each stage detailed the requirements of the task and the responsibilities on both sides. The cutover plan was exceptional—it was far more precise than any other similar project I have been involved in.
“Thanks to the careful planning during the early phase of the project, our migration progressed very smoothly. IBM Services provided a specialist architect who worked hands-on with us, which was extremely valuable in identifying and solving potential technical challenges ahead of time. This approach, combined with a follow-the-sun model for IBM’s offshore resources, meant that the complex migration ran like a well-oiled machine. In fact, we succeeded in going live with SAP Business Warehouse powered by SAP HANA in less than six months.”
Delivering great service to every customer
With its ultra-fast analytics platform, Airgas has achieved its goal of serving business users with the insights they need to uncover opportunities to unlock efficiencies and drive sales.
Sehgal states: “In the past, our overnight batches would run well into business hours, which caused significant delays in the decision-making process, and increased the risk of missing out on valuable sales opportunities. With a 50 percent improvement in our data load refresh time, we are able to finish our data loads within the batch window.”
In addition to accelerating nightly batch processes, the new solution is delivering performance enhancements to reports across the board.
“In the past, there were certain reports that would take so long to run that by the time they were finished, the information inside them was outdated and no longer useful,” says Sehgal. “SAP Business Warehouse powered by SAP HANA gives us a query performance improvement of 84 percent, and enables all parts of the business to perform deeper, more granular analyses. The result is that it is now possible to drill down into our data and uncover opportunities to improve efficiency—something that would have been very difficult in the past.”
He adds: “We operate more than 1,000 branches across the United States, offering a comprehensive range of services in gases and hard goods. Today, we deliver reports to our sales team highlighting the purchasing affinities between our products. This enables us to identify valuable up- and cross-selling opportunities, and recommend relevant products that customers might not otherwise have considered—driving incremental sales and increasing average customer value.”
Airgas can now clone its analytics environment 78 percent faster than before, enabling it to start testing its new reports in days—a process that would previously have taken weeks.
Sehgal continues: “Because our reports are now running quickly and smoothly, there is far less need for the IT team to spend time monitoring the environment and firefighting technical issues. The easy manageability of the new platform—combined with how much faster it is to refresh the system—means that IT can invest more of their time developing new data-driven services for the business.”
Airgas is confident that it has found a solution to handle its analytics requirements today and for the foreseeable future.
“When we migrated from Oracle to SAP HANA, we also moved all our SAP Business Warehouse reports to HANA,” Sehgal says. “In the coming months, we will begin to develop the platform for SAP BusinessObjects™ Business Intelligence. Our finance and marketing departments are heavy users of reporting and data visualization, and we see that delivering faster business intelligence capabilities will enable them to perform deeper analysis without support from IT.”
He concludes: “By working together with IBM Services, we have delivered the ultra-fast analytics platform we need to support our growing business—and we are certain the solution will continue to support our requirements for years to come. In addition, the platform gives us a head start in understanding SAP HANA.”
About Airgas, Inc.
Airgas, an Air Liquide Company, is the leading U.S. supplier of industrial, medical and specialty gases, as well as hardgoods and related products; one of the largest U.S. suppliers of safety products; and a leading U.S. supplier of refrigerants, ammonia products, and process chemicals. As an Air Liquide company, the world leader in gases, technology and services for industry and health, Airgas offers customers an unrivaled global footprint and industry leading technology and innovations.
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