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How to choose manufacturing software for business intelligence

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Foodmaker spices up data accessibility with QlikView BI dashboard

When seasonings manufacturer Illes needed to bring business data on the road, it chose the QlikView dashboard.

Mention business technology and the image that comes to mind is most likely a computer screen in a clean office cubicle. When manufacturers use technology, however, the environments are typically on the grittier side. Lugging laptops and finding safe places to set them up can be a particular burden for employees who are always on the road.

Tablets are the obvious next step, but many business application vendors have yet to move into this newest frontier of connectivity. One food and beverage manufacturer has turned to the business intelligence (BI) dashboard from QlikView to solve its data accessibility challenges in the plant and on the road.

Illes Seasonings & Flavors is a Carrollton, Texas-based manufacturer of liquid and dry food ingredients for food manufacturers, restaurants and beverage distributors. Its products are used to enhance the texture and aroma of food and beverage items, according to Les Howell, executive director of IT at Illes.

"We're a custom shop, so if you order a product, it can't be sold anyplace else," he said. About 70% of the company's personnel are involved in research and development, a model that helps Illes meet the demands of not only designing custom products, but manufacturing them in large quantities as well, according to Howell.

BI dashboards when and where they're needed

Illes first adopted QlikTech's QlikView BI platform four years ago, beginning with version 9, and is currently using version 11. "I was tasked to find a solution that the sales folks could use without their laptops," Howell said. The company's ideal BI dashboard would be iPad-ready, a must for employees who make frequent site visits and need to easily access all their sales data, he explained. "They needed to be able to interact with a customer very easily, without having to set up and boot up a laptop."

Prior to QlikView, Illes used the Targit BI and analytics system, which the company had purchased along with its Microsoft Dynamics ERP system in 2006. "That solution proved to be cumbersome and technically challenged, and we pretty much just shelved it," Howell said. At the time of Illes' BI software search, Targit was still six months away from having iPad compatibility, he added.

QlikView was the only potential vendor on Howell's list that offered iPad compatibly, making the selection a relative no-brainer, he said. The software selection team downloaded and tested QlikView to see how the company's sales data would show up in the dashboard.

"With the help of QlikTech support, within a couple of weeks we had a proof of concept for the executive team," Howell said. "It was an immediate success, so we purchased the product and started rolling out BI solutions for the salespeople." QlikView also turned out to be faster and easier to implement than Targit, according to Howell, with the implementation completed in two months.

QlikView BI dashboard spreads across Illes

While Illes initially selected QlikView with sales in mind, the dashboard was soon shared with other departments and the executive team. Today, every employee runs QlikView, including the clerk, who uses the dashboard for inquiries instead of logging into the Dynamics ERP system. "They're all able to manage the business better via dashboards and problem solve very quickly," said Howell. "Instead of having to click through many different screens, they can just find what they need [on one screen] and go about their business."

The dashboard -- which Illes refers to as Data Central -- gives users visibility into the three major business applications used at Illes: the ERP system, the product R&D lab system and the employee time clocks.

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The company's management and operations side uses QlikView to manage capacities and labor hours for each job. The finance department uses QlikView to look at margins and sales information about customers and pricing trends for materials, which helps the company better manage its costs, Howell said.

While Howell and the users at Illes are pleased with QlikView's performance, there are still some wish list items they would like to see in future versions of the dashboard.

The salespeople at Illes are already using QlikView to enter data directly into the ERP system, but that technology is still somewhat limited, which has prevented its application across the entire company. "I would like the data-entry system in QlikView to be more full-fledged and robust," Howell said. "We could put our iPads on the production floor and our operators could be entering all their information onto those, instead of the old standard computers. That's something for the future."

Follow SearchManufacturingERP on Twitter@ManufacturingTT.

This was first published in July 2013

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