GeoPost UK delivers more value with open source business intelligence

GeoPost UK has said that the company saw more business value in using an open source solution to drive its business intelligence (BI), than a proprietary product.

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GeoPost UK has said that the company saw more business value in using an open source solution to drive its business intelligence (BI), than a proprietary product.

The express parcel delivery company used MySQL and Jaspersoft’s BI software to develop a solution that replaced its unwieldy, 12-year-old, spreadsheet reporting system.

“BI was a way to consolidate our data. People were taking data out and manipulating it, and interpreting it in different ways, so that we were starting to see conflicting reports, with the same data being used to produce different results.

“We were looking for a new reporting system, to enable people to analyse the data,” said Vernon Adams, head of technology architecture and strategy at GeoPost UK, which is owned by Europe’s second largest postal group, LaPoste.

As part of the procurement process, Adams invited several vendors to present their products to the GeoPost board, who he said were very unimpressed.

 “I thought the ones [solutions] on the market, such as Hyperion and IBM’s Cognose, were very complex, and I’m from an IT background. There were too many tools,” he said.

 “It wasn’t cost – the business couldn’t see the business value.” Adams said that the proprietary products cost around £1.5 million, which did not include ongoing licence and support costs.

Adams’ open source business case therefore won the bid because not only was it more than 75 percent cheaper, but the board was able to see the value of the open source solution, which was more powerful, yet less complex, and more adaptable.

It also helped that Adams and his team had some experience in some open source technologies, including MySQL for some databases in the past, as well as Apache for web servers.

“The quality [of open source solutions] is now just very professional. Generally, they’re more adaptable, and if it goes wrong or a supplier goes bust, you’ve got the source code to do it yourself,” he said.

For instance, six months ago, GeoPost decided to move away from its OpenText Livelink CMS to the open source-based Alfresco because the latter was seen as being more flexibile and having the additional functionality the company needed. In contrast, Adams did not view OpenText's product as having a viable upgrade path.

GeoPost implemented its Jaspersoft-based BI solution last year, after testing the dashboard system during 2009.

“[With the dashboard system] users click on what they understand, rather than use complex tools. We tried to develop something far simpler. Every user can pick it up within five minutes, and each user can create their own [reporting dashboard,” said Adams. The dashboard has now been rolled out to around 600 users.

GeoPost used expertise from open source management consultants Open Business Associates (OBA), who helped the company speed up the reporting system when it stalled under increasing data load.

For example, OBA recommended GeoPost implement Infobright’s analytics database, which had a column structure that reduced or eliminated the need for aggregating tables, thus improving analytical query times and simplifying data warehouse operations.

In addition, OBA replaced manual scripts with Talend’s ETL (Extraction, Transformation and Loading) tool, which also allowed data to be changed and updated more easily and quickly.

The new system also means that the business can analyse information in more granular detail than ever before.

“Producing the management reports was a weekly exercise. There were meetings and slides and presentations were produced, but if anyone asked a question they couldn’t answer it. Now they can just bring up a dashboard,” said Adams.

Adams also added a few more dimensions of the business that were not previously analysed regularly, which he said had a strong impact.

“Our B2C business was growing, and we can now see how taking on a customer can impact our B2B and B2C traffic. B2C analysis was a very ad hoc process before, only once every two months.

“Now, we can see the profile of each customer, and you can drill down a whole month’s worth of parcels to just one parcel issue. Before, they would have had to produce half a dozen reports to get that information.”

Currently, the data in the system is updated a day after the event occurs. One of Adams’ goals over the next 12 to 18 months is to make the system update in real-time.

Other aims for GeoPost IT include moving the company’s mainly Microsoft and Sun-based data centres over to Linux, and more widely, to cloud computing and open source.

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