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Jabil takes an evolutionary leap in data management with self-service BI

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Jabil, based in St. Petersburg, Florida, is one of the world’s leading global manufacturing solutions partners. Its business began with circuit boards for the automotive industry, and it now comprises more than 90 factories providing system design and related services that operate sophisticated supply chain management solutions in 33 countries. During this growth, Jabil has expanded its IT toolset in creative ways to better serve its customers’ needs while benefiting from internal efficiencies and precision.

To date, the Jabil method for capturing and communicating this data has been online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes that use data from Microsoft SQL Server software and report the data using SQL Server Reporting Services.  But the main limitation of OLAP and Reporting Services in the Jabil environment was the required coordination between the employee requesting each report and the IT database administrator delivering the report via specialized queries into the data. Employees requesting reports did not fully understand the reporting system’s capabilities and limitations, and were therefore not empowered to use the system to its full potential.

Bob Bell, Corporate IT Architect at Jabil, and Paul Bunting, IT Technical Lead at Jabil created a series of visualizations demonstrating SQL Server 2014 Power View, an interactive, browser-based Reporting Services tool that provides flexibility for self-service users to visualize and present the data they discover. The demonstrations, conducted as part of a proof of concept but soon to be rolled out in the Jabil production environment, showed Jabil business users how to readily view and transform various kinds of data and produce their own customized reports instantly—no IT request required.

The demonstrations in Bell’s and Bunting’s solution portray many kinds of data—structured and unstructured, relational and non-relational—from internal sources as well as from the Internet. By managing these diverse data types and offering a user interface where they can be manipulated and examined easily and quickly, Power View helps Jabil achieve new levels of BI visualization by allowing users to interact directly with data, producing and refining views of the data in new ways to help them perform their work more effectively.  The initial rollout of the platform was to 15 “power users” who tested the new capabilities and provided feedback to IT. Over the next four to five months, as part of an ongoing SQL Server 2014 rollout, IT will continue to demonstrate Power View to additional users.

Any Jabil employee can analyze data in real time in creative ways and customize the results in whatever presentation format will yield the strongest business impact. If at first a set of queries doesn’t tell the story, users can transform the queries themselves by using Microsoft Power Query for Excel to “slice and dice” the data into the format they need. These capabilities, new to Jabil users, empower employees to show innovation and initiative by looking at the facts of their day-to-day jobs in a whole new way.

Power Query makes data consumption easy for both novice and IT Pro users, so that they can transform and consume data from a mass of accessible sources. Also, Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel assists with the company’s frequent need to query large amounts of client-side data.

OLAP cubes remain the key sources for Jabil business data, but now the business teams have access to them in ways they didn’t before.  Now, after a few demonstrations, users at all levels—from line managers to finance personnel to executive staff—feel comfortable and excited about discovering new ways of working with data.  “To narrow the reaction down to one word: Amazement,” says Bunting. “Our users are amazed at how simple and easy the tool is to use for looking at and transforming their business data.”

You can read the full case study here.

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