BI tool makes the cut for Canadian laser engraving company

Cost and performance were the two key considerations for Virtek Vision International Inc., when it sought a business intelligence (BI) application to keep track of its cash flow.

A provider of laser-based templates and engraving products based in Waterloo, Ont., Virtek checked out BI apps from several vendors.

However, their products, Virtek found, were either too expensive or required additional interfaces to be deployed.

Eventually the company opted for a BI tool developed by AXLE Studio Canada Inc.

“We wanted a BI tool that could extract data from our ERP (enterprise resource planning) system and report in a highly visual manner, without the installation of additional applications or devices,” said Peter Monsberger, chief financial officer for Virtek.

Virtek’s lasers create templates on exotic alloys for aeronautic companies such as Boeing and engrave markings on anything from plastic water bottles to the new $1 coin for the US Mint.

Price was a major factor in convincing Virtek to choose AXLE, which now alerts managers about expiring cash receivables.

“A lot of other companies offered the same features, but they were too expensive,” Monsberger said.

For instance, a Hyperion BI tool with similar specs would have cost Virtek close to $500,000. Virtek got the AXLE software product for around $100,000.

AXLE is designed to fill in the void between high-end BI tools such as Cognos and Hyperion and budget business products such as Excel, said Gary MacFarlane, CEO of Dynac Tools, the Canadian reseller of AXLE.

He said Canadian SMBs demand more functionality but end up stuck with Excel because they can’t afford the features offered by the bigger vendors.

Dynac initially offered business analytics tools such as ProClarity from Microsoft and Vanguard from Exact Software, MacFarlane said. “But our clients did not have a very positive experience with these products. They lacked the features and price advantage of AXLE.”

He said AXLE works out cheaper for users because the software product does not require additional servers to run. Associated hardware can easily add $5,000 to $10,000 to a BI tool purchase, said he noted.

Virtek previously employed an Excel BI tool but found it too slow. With the system, Virtek needed an employee to track the data extracted by Excel from the companies ERP. That person also had to e-mail report updates to users.

With AXLE, this function is fully automated and can be accomplished by users with the click of a refresh button on the report page.

The dashboard dial monitors on the AXLE product is especially useful to Monsberger. A previous CEO of the company who was an ex-pilot favoured dials and gauges as well, he said.

“With the dashboard, the information is presented right in front of you better than any printed report. The dials show green to indicate the company’s okay and yellow for caution.”

Monsberger said AXLE users can create customized dashboards, a capability not offered by other applications. “The problem with other products is that they require consultants to link the BI tool to company databases and create dashboards.”

Time spent with consultants could amount to around three-fourths of the total deployment cost, he said.

This is an important factor that companies looking to deploy BI tools should investigate closely, the Virtek CFO said. “Some products might appear to be less expensive. But look closely, the product might call for lengthy consultancy appointments.”

Simple and swift user training was another key benefit.

Linking AXLE to Virtek’s ERP and training users took only one day, Monsberger said. The same process could easily take a week with other products.

Price is a huge hurdle for most SMBs but so is corporate culture, according to Thomas Davenport, director of research and professor of IT and management at Bobson Executive Education in Bobson Park, Mass.

“BI biases are largely about mindset. You’re either a quantitative manager or you’re not.”

Davenport noted that some executives are receptive to the idea of BI tools, while others are repelled by it. The attitude is independent of industry or business size.

Resistance may also stem from lack of product knowledge, or from having different priorities or business focus, he said.

For Virtek, instant data access is vital to mobile Virtek personnel who could be doing offsite product presentation for clients.

Cash flow tracking is also essential for billing clients on time because delayed payments could mean Virtek would be short for cash to pay its own suppliers.

The company also relies on AXLE’s online ability to track and reconcile dual ERP systems for its European and Canadian offices.


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