How a Business Intelligence Platform Has Helped Global Automotive Manufacturer Become More Profitable and Efficient
Nifco UK is manufacturer of plastic automotive components, and is part of the global Nifco Inc which was established more than 50 years ago in Tokyo, Japan, right in the middle of the industrial boom of the sixties. Even then the heads of the business knew they wanted to be innovative industry leaders. This was set out in the company ethos, known as the Nifco Spirit to “constantly look for innovations without fear of failure, and boldly face the challenge of new work.”
Because of their strong customer focus, Perfect Image knew we would work well with Nifco UK as part of a trusted partnership that has flourished to the point where Nifco UK has recently submitted its developed Qlik apps for consideration in the global awards.
For all of its data requirements, Nifco UK had primarily been using Microsoft Excel. It had limited functionality and the team at Nifco UK knew that in order to grow they had to improve their system.
John Tinkler, Manager of IT at Nifco UK, says, “I’m pretty handy on Excel, but Excel has its limitations.”
At the time Nifco UK was using a competitor’s analytics solution, but it wasn’t right for their data and it wasn’t adding value to the company. When the team at Nifco UK was ready to make the move to a solution that could really increase, John remembered his conversation with Andrew and came back to Perfect Image to see if there was anything could be done using the Qlik platform.
John says, “I’ve known Perfect Image since Andrew Robson started the company. When I moved to Nifco UK, Andrew contacted me and we were talking about business intelligence tools. Andrew suggested we take a look at Qlikview so we did, and I could really see the benefits of it.”
The problems that Nifco UK was suffering were:
- Disparate data
Nifco UK needed a way of easily and rapidly extracting incompatible and unformatted data from each of the myriad of sources and platforms that they had, and to have a standardised format for each department’s information.
- IT Department time being taken up with data
The solution had to be rapid and easy to use with self-service capabilities to save the IT department’s time from on-demand reporting. It would also have to find a way around manual extraction and creation of time consuming reports.
- No single version of the truth
John explains, “We’d come to rely on Excel, and you find that you have many versions of the truth, and you don’t know what is the truth.”
Each department had their own spreadsheets and sets of data that they assumed were correct, but as a whole there was no consistency to data. Employees from different departments would disagree about clashing information that didn’t agree from separate parts of the company. Each department had their own version of the truth, and there was no single version of the truth.
Who could assist?
When the time came to invest in a solution provider, Nifco UK entered into discussions with Perfect Image in 2010 to ask for a proof of concept to be developed. This needed to be able to demonstrate the growth of the business to aid in the planning of building a new factory.
John says of choosing to work with Perfect Image, “The thing that made [Perfect Image] different was I’d used [them] before, so it was a personal reason. I felt comfortable dealing with Perfect Image because of the early days with Andrew. My experience had been good with the company, so I had no reason not to. I looked around obviously, we benchmarked Perfect Image with other companies – we don’t take every quotation on face value – but everything stacked up.”
Proof of concept
One way to justify the solution was to demonstrate its usefulness in a real life situation. A proof of concept was developed by Perfect Image using Qlik’s predictive capabilities and “what if” scenarios. This was done to test whether there would be enough space in the factory they were moving into.
John says, “We embarked with Perfect Image to this proof of concept using data that we already had in the company, but we just didn’t have the tools to analyse it, and to perform all of the “what if” scenarios that we needed.”
With the proof of concept developed using Qlik, Nifco UK could test how many machines they would need going forward and change the efficiency of the machines, and trial different working days the machines were running using a slider. By going through all of the possibilities through trial and error, they could really test in a risk-free environment whether they had enough space for their requirements.
John explains of the developmental process, “We had an Excel model and [Perfect Image’s] Qlik Specialist came to see me. I walked him through the Excel model and explained where all of the data came from, and the constraints that we had. He was able to use his experience with Qlik, but also his experience of dealing with businesses, to know instinctively how to lay out the Qlik model.”
From Finance to Every Department
The solution began in Finance, because it was easiest to prototype it there and ensure the robustness of the platform. From there they were able to grow Qlik exponentially.
With the Finance department’s success as proof that the software would work for Nifco UK, John says, “We then went out to each department explaining what it is and what it can do. They didn’t know what they didn’t know, so we designed an app at first in the same format as the previous app. We’ve standardised so people can navigate around in the same way. But when we delivered the first prototype in each area, that gave people an appetite and they came back asking for more information.”
- One version of the truth
Now with Qlik at their fingertips they have one source of data that is accurate, cohesive throughout each department, and that can be agreed on. This means decisions can be backed up with real data that can really promote development of the business.
John says, “It’s been a good opportunity for us to ensure that we’ve got the data in one place i.e. in Qlik and now we’re able to question anybody really. If they don’t get their data from Qlik then it’s not the real version.”
- Rapid Extraction
With the Qlik solution, John says, “We’re able to extract data certainly more quickly and more efficiently.”
Nifco UK is also able to drill down into metrics quickly, which is used for information from its factories to see where the least efficient machines are. This makes them more reactive to issues before they arrive and has exponentially increased their efficiency with manufacturing.
- Saving time for the IT department
Now that the IT department no longer receives so many requests for information, the team has been able to focus its time more efficiently. The requests have changed from asking for the information outright, to asking where the information is stored within the 40+ apps that the company have developed over time.
Of the shift since deploying Qlik, John says, “We’re saving an enormous amount of time. This has enabled Nifco UK to pull everything into one format that’s really uncomplicated, easily understood and easy to manipulate. It gives people the information that they need to run the business. From my point of view as IT manager, it frees up my department’s time to look at more value added projects.”
- Company-wide cohesion
Now, the company has a full view of every department singularly and as a whole. With reports spanning several platforms, and integration with their ERP system which in turn integrates with time and attendance systems, the company is in a new phase of complete authority and control. They can see who is working on what machine, what overtime is being worked, and are able to optimise their time and attendance systems to get the very best out of their employees.
John says, “There isn’t a department in the whole site that isn’t using Qlik. I’ve got a model over Qlik itself so I can tell you how many sessions are being used each month, which I report to the board to make sure it’s not a white elephant.”
- A huge improvement from Excel
The company is finding that with Qlik, data can be rapid, effortless and endlessly valuable.
John says that Qlik outputs results, “really, really quickly. They look really, really good and the ability to be able to switch from looking at one type of information to another – the speed that you can do that is phenomenal.”
Many companies are in the same position that Nifco UK were in, where they rely on Excel to provide insight that it isn’t built to provide on a company-wide scale.
Since the switch, John says, “What Qlik can do is over and above what Excel has done for us in the past – it’s amazing.”
- Keeping employees happy
Of the employees benefitting from the solution and whether they are pleased with it, John says, “The feedback I’ve had is that yes they are, because they’re able to get at the information without waiting for us to produce it. They can download it quickly to Excel if they’re more comfortable with that, but at least they’re still using the one version of the truth which is the key message really.”
John goes even further and says, “We’ve had some senior members of staff even use the word, ‘Wow’.”
Moving into the Cloud
Nifco UK has recognised that the cloud is the future, and because of this, the team has started to develop apps over cloud-based products using permission from the suppliers. The IT helpdesk system is now in the cloud to enable them to extract information. The Building Management System (BMS) and web-based recruitment systems are also in the cloud. There is another product called Skills Station that is also cloud-based, that develops their employees with skills and relevant information.
Any data that can be obtained now has an app to deal with it – so everything is utilised to get full use and to squeeze the most possible value out of every piece of information they hold.
An Award in Analytics
Recently, Nifco UK submitted their use of Qlik to the Nifco Inc. Awards, an annual global recognition of outstanding technological development. The team has applied to Nifco Japan for their self-serviced use and development of Qlik.
The case for the award was the fact more than 40 standardised applications had been built for every area of the business, from Logistics, to HR, to Sales, to Finance, to IT and beyond. These apps seamlessly link data and allow for a highly flexible tool that can improve the speed and flexibility of accessing business data from any and all sources. It has provided a quantum leap with the usage of real time data and the manipulation of that data has given Nifco the ability to make innovative, data-inspired decisions.
While there has been no decision made as yet, Perfect Image – as trusted partners – very much enjoy seeing companies really run with Qlik and make it their own, so we have our fingers crossed for Nifco UK’s success.
Going Global with Qlik
Soon, it may not just be the UK branch of Nifco that use Qlik. Nifco Japan have recently purchased the platform, and have trained one of their specialists to develop and produce some apps.
Just like the cloud, Qlik has the potential to connect separate branches of a company and bring them together for the benefit of everyone involved. As Nifco UK have experienced, all data is useful data. If a company can utilise every branch of its company, its potential is boundless.
John concludes, “Our plans for the future are like any company; we want to be more profitable, more efficient. Qlik is helping us to achieve that because we can see where our challenges are. It demonstrates opportunities for improvement just by analysing the data.