Founded in Victoria in 1877, Dahlsens provides everything a builder or renovator could ask for, from tools and timber to cement, hardware and steel products. In its time the company has lived through numerous building booms and busts, and its experiences have helped management to understand the importance of continually analysing and anticipating both market and business performance.

In 2005, Dahlsens embarked upon a major system enhancement, deploying the Business Intelligence (BI) solution to provide greater visibility into sales, profit and margin by store, by product and across the entire group.

Since then Dahlsens has acquired two more companies and trebled its turnover. The group now boasts three divisions, 1400 employees and 61 branches across mainland Australia. Throughout its growth, BI has continued to help Dahlsens’ store managers and group executives better understand the business and capitalise on market opportunities.

An integrated solution

Dahlsens’ decision to deploy a BI solution was driven by a desire for a more immediate, on-demand reporting capability. Management wanted to be able to view key performance indicators for any area of the business without having to wait for month end reports.

Joe Chila, Dahlsens’ IT Manager explains, “We’d been using Sterland Computing’s ProStix as our ERP since around 1999. It’s a specialist building industry solution and is a good fit for us in that it covers all parts of the business, from point of sale to inventory, general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, manufacturing and so on. But, as an ERP, its reporting was limited.”

Mark Griffin, Dahlsens Chief Financial Officer, adds “As a result, all our P&L reporting was being produced in Microsoft Excel and we’d become too big a company to continue doing that. Excel couldn’t physically handle it any more. What we needed was a business intelligence solution that provided more flexibility than ProStix could offer.”

At the heart of Dahlsens’ BI solution are three multi-dimensional cubes which consolidate all of the company’s data relating to sales and products, merchandise and stock, and finance.

Each day’s operating data is uploaded from ProStix into the BI software overnight, ready for analysis first thing the following morning.

The reports allow management to view results by variables such as branch, product group, product code. They show how every branch and how the company as a whole is performing against budget. Colour coding highlights anomalies and drill-down capabilities allow users to look into the figures to understand why those anomalies are occurring.

The phases of adoption

Griffin believes that the introduction, adoption and evolution of the BI software has fallen into three distinct phases.

Initially, as the software went live, Griffin says:

“Everyone wanted lots of reports and lots of variety. The BI software opened the floodgates for information and we ended up with reports being created for every possible need. The problem is that people can easily get immersed and lost in too much data, which is equally as bad as not having any data.”

The second phase was a period of review followed by rationalisation. Griffin explains:

“We needed sufficient time to see who was using the reports and how often they were used. We did this and then culled about three quarters of the reports. We found that if we set up the reports with enough flexibility, just 20 reports were able to answer the hundred or so questions anyway.

The important thing is to keep the templates of reports consistent but to have as many drop down options as possible.”

The third phase called for education.

“You can educate initially, but you need to re-educate again and again,” Griffin says.

“One training session is never enough.” He advises that anyone about to embark on a BI deployment should plan to revisit training at least two to three times. Approximately 80 per cent of our managers use it now, but there’s still 20 per cent who need encouragement.”

Super Users

Griffin’s other key piece of advice is not to leave all the BI knowledge and responsibility on one person’s shoulders. “You need at least one if not a couple of super users who can change reports or build new ones as the need arises. Otherwise, you become single point sensitive on your IT managers. It’s good to have a finance person involved in the project as well; someone who understands modelling, the structure of the BI, the cubes and variables. It greatly improves the ability to write reports,” Griffin adds.

Today, BI is used to consolidate and report on all aspects of every Dahlsens-branded branch. The software is also being progressively rolled out across the two recently acquired companies.

Griffin concludes:

“What we have invested in BI has paid for itself quite comfortably through increased profitability and heightened awareness of profit and working capital management issues. We’ve certainly had a good return on the investment.”