SQM

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SQM

Business needs

Headquartered in the Chilean capital of Santiago, global chemicals and mining company SQM is the world’s largest producer of lithium, with sales operations in Europe, Asia, and North America.

Back in 2007, explains commercial offices IT director Carolina Larenas, SQM had invested in Microsoft data warehouse technology in order to part-automate its largely manual financial consolidation and roll-up process. Sales and financial data were automatically extracted from ERP systems operated by these local sales operations, and consolidated into a single data warehouse running under Microsoft SQL Server 2005, which could then be interrogated by a combination of Microsoft Excel and simple report-writing tools.

But while this was a significant advance at the time, she adds, the update process was slow and cumbersome, with refreshes to the data warehouse involving re-building it in its entirety each time, extracting and applying business rules to data going back to 2004.

“Each time, it took around ten hours to complete—and if the update failed for any reason, the whole process had to be re-started, causing another ten-hour delay,” she recalls. “Increasingly, we realized that we needed newer and better Business Intelligence technology.”

A further complication was a planned upgrade to several sales operations’ elderly Microsoft Dynamics AX 3.0 ERP systems, replacing them with instances of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012. But several management reports that were available within Dynamics AX 3.0 would not be available within Dynamics AX 2012, it was realized. Once again, it was a situation that pointed to a requirement for newer and better Business Intelligence technology.

Challenge

By mid-2014, the decision had been made, relates Larenas: SQM would indeed invest in newer and better Business Intelligence technology. But which technology, precisely? Sourced from which vendor or vendors? What interfacing would be required? And how was that interfacing to be developed and delivered? The answers were unclear.

Accordingly, in November 2014 the company solicited proposals from parties interested in recommending and providing appropriate Business Intelligence technology. And among the proposals that were received and evaluated, she explains, was one from eBECS. By mid-2015, the decision had been reached: eBECS would be the preferred Business Intelligence partner.

Why eBECS?

Price was not a critical deciding factor in the selection of a partner, notes Larenas, adding that the majority of the proposals that had been received exhibited very comparable pricing. Instead, she explains, the decision to go with eBECS was based on two factors.

First, eBECS’ proposal demonstrated the best understanding of what SQM wanted to achieve. And second, the SQM team liked what they saw of eBECS’ ‘can do’ culture and approach.

“We liked the eBECS consultants that we met, and valued their flexibility and dynamism,” sums up Larenas. “It was clear to us that eBECS wasn’t one of those big, highly structured, slow-moving organizations where changes were difficult.”

Solution

The project formally started in August 2015, with SQM and eBECS personnel jointly defining the project’s scope, and planning the phases of the project through to completion. Critically, the project would run in parallel to the project that was tasked with delivering the new Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 ERP systems, and would go live at the same time, in January 2017.

Essentially, explains Larenas, eBECS delivered an all-encompassing Business Intelligence solution, deploying Microsoft SQL Server 2014 and the ‘extract, transform and load (ETL)’ capabilities of Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services.

Data is extracted from the various SQM ERP systems, and inserted into a data warehouse divided into several individual data marts, with a set of tabular data ‘cubes’ meeting the needs of specific analytical and planning requirements by allowing SQM personnel to open them up from within Microsoft Excel.

Benefits

The result has been a transformation in SQM’s Business Intelligence and analytics requirements, enthuses Larenas.

To begin with, the solution is significantly faster, with updated data being incorporated within the data warehouse in a fraction of the time that was previously required.

In addition, thanks to eBECS deploying SQL Server Master Data Services as part of the solution, SQM personnel can directly edit the data warehouse, changing its structure and creating new and different groupings for reporting purposes

“Previously, if we wanted to add a new company to the data warehouse, or link to a new source of ERP data, the change would take a couple of months to come into effect,” she explains. “Now, we go into SQL Server Master Data Services, specify what we want, and the next time the data warehouse is updated, the new company is there, ready for us to use.”

Finally, the data ‘cubes’ are enabling users to meet many more of their own analytics needs, without requiring specially-written SQL reports.

“Because the data cubes open within Microsoft Excel, users can easily directly access the information that they need,” she sums up. “It’s not working with SQL reports, and it’s not self-serve reporting—but it is giving users direct access to the data, using a desktop tool that they know and understand.”

Solution overview

4700 employees
SQM, a worldwide company based in Chile and founded in 1968, has today a strong global presence in a wide variety of industries and applications through its five business lines: Specialty Plant Nutrition, Iodine and derivatives, Lithium and derivatives, Industrial Chemicals and Potassium.
eBECS
AX and Business Intelligence
Manufacturing
Global

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