by Rodney Gedda

Mitre 10 taps open source for fast BI win

Mar 22, 2010
Business IntelligenceDevelopment ApproachesE-commerce Services

National hardware chain Mitre 10 implemented a business intelligence system in eight weeks to centralise its reporting while maintaining compatibility with existing spreadsheets.

Formed in 1959, Mitre 10 distributes supplies to some 450 Mitre 10 stores, making it the second biggest hardware network in Australia.

Commercial manager at Mitre 10, Rob Pistritto, said the organisation’s BI problems were fairly typical with most planing and reporting done in Excel.

“We have data warehouse analysts that spend time generating reports,” Pistritto said, adding budgets are also done in Excel.

Mitre 10 segments its product database in to a “family tree” hierarchy manage its products. As changes are made to the hierarchy, reports and budgets also need to change.

Due to the significance of product hierarchy changes, it would take Mitre 10 four to five months to re-write all the reports each year — and there was only one person in the organisation capable of doing it.

“We had one subject matter expert who decided to leave,” Pistritto said.

Mitre 10 partnered with Melbourne-based software integrator Naked Data to implement the Palo open source BI product from software company Jedox.

“We needed a robust permanent solution in a timeframe of eight weeks,” Pistritto said. “Palo was quick to implement and has a lot of functionality. There is now one version of the truth and changes can be made in a day, not a week.”

“We use Excel templates to populate the database so it’s easy to integrate. Excel has a lot of other functionality to enhance the reports so it’s good for analysts.”

Mitre 10 started using the open source components of Palo and then moved to the commercially-supported premium product as the demand for more functionality grew.

The application now supports sales and operational planning and merchandise reporting and can report any combination of products all in the one place.

“This is information that people need to make decisions that will make money,” Pistritto said, adding Mitre 10 is unique in that its stores are not mandated to buy products from the group.

The BI system reports on 250 product categories from a database of 2000 suppliers. Categories then roll into departments, which roll into business units which go into the company as a whole.

Stock turns and margins are all handled in Palo and the numbers are automatically calculated.

What did Mitre 10 learn? Firstly, Pistritto says, eight week implementations are not good for you health.

“Ensure IT is fully involved from the beginning and be flexible enough to change your requirements,” he said. “Business ownership is also critical, as most of the reports were given to people, now they can be run directly from Palo.”

Mitre 10 did look at other options, but it “needed something quickly” and its IT team was supportive of an open source product.

“Most of what we saw couldn’t do what we needed, but Palo was quite flexible,” Pistritto said.

Mitre 10 is using Palo to include general ledger information from its FinanceOne application for a “complete picture” of the business tied back to accounts.

It is also using the Palo ETL server — an Apache Tomcat Catalina servlet written in Java — for getting data from the warehouse to Palo BI.

Naked Data managing director Chris Mentor said Palo open source includes a Web-based spreadsheet with full cell formatting functionality, as well as the functions found in OpenOffice and Microsoft Excel.

“With the charting capability you can a save report and make it available to any user or group in the organisation,” Mentor said. “It is developed in PHP and Ajax. I’ve been in the BI space for 10 years and never come across a system that is so fast.”

Mentor said the Palo controls can be monitored and maintained through the Web and the ETL client interface is also all Web-based.