Taming the Numbers

OFS Brands is jumping on data and mobility trends with the help of strategic partners

Behind OFS Brands’ extensive furniture offerings, such as this set designed by Swiss architect and designer Daniel Korb, is a sophisticated IT team ensuring the company can map trends and react quickly to changes in demand.

When OFS Brands emerged from the recession, it didn’t rest long on the laurels of its survival. While it takes solid strategy to weather an economic downturn, as the contract furniture company did, it was apparent to vice president of information technologies Scott Franzel and OFS’s more than 1,500 employees that there was room for improvement. The best decisions are informed decisions, and to the credit of its associates from the field to the front office, OFS had been successfully decisive for years with limited and sometimes late information. With the help of technology, Franzel and his team are taking the guesswork out of the business.

Contract furniture is an industry with numerous touch points. Communication is key between vendors, manufacturers, dealers, and end users, but until recently, accessible, accurate information was more of a luxury than a given. Prepping for a meeting, an OFS associate needing something as fundamental as a customer’s purchase history would have to request a report from the IT help line and hope that someone could compile the data and send it in the half-hour between that call and the client meeting. And while it was easy for executives to meet in a conference room at the corporate office, OFS’s disparate business units had no way to collaborate remotely.

 “Choosing vendors and  developing strong partnerships has been absolutely critical for I.T. to drive value for the organization.” —Scott Franzel
“Choosing vendors and developing strong partnerships has been absolutely critical for I.T. to drive value for the organization.” —Scott Franzel

“It’s a challenge in our industry to keep up with market demands,” says Franzel. “As an IT department, our objective is to provide solutions that help us keep pace.”

Whatever solution Franzel would deliver, he knew it had to satisfy some key criteria: it had to be self-service in nature, and it had to be consistent, delivering the same information to all users. His team looked to mobile technology and the trend toward intuitive applications. It was clear they would need to change their infrastructure to support a mobile solution and to protect the company’s intellectual property, so they began building a data warehouse before any solutions were ever considered. Then they decided they wanted to provide timely analytics to a range of stakeholders, and they knew they would need a partner to do it.

“Choosing vendors and developing strong partnerships has been absolutely critical for IT to drive value for the organization,” says Franzel, who selected Information Builders to build a business-intelligence application. Sourcing feedback from its business units, OFS posed a challenge to several business-intelligence vendors. Using real OFS data, vendors demonstrated solutions to a team of 15 employees. As an unintended consequence, the associates began discussing issues and opportunities made apparent by the new technology—a benefit Franzel says demonstrated the untapped potential of interdepartmental discussion.

The evaluation team vetted solutions with a three-part scorecard, giving each a grade based on user evaluation, technological considerations, and feedback from other companies that had partnered with the vendor. Franzel and the team settled on WebFOCUS, a solution developed by Information Builders. The application stood out for a variety of factors, including ease of use, technical support, and the ability to amend the application as the needs of OFS evolved.

Eighteen months after implementation, WebFOCUS is proving a smart choice. With key performance indicators and metrics available every day, the executive team can make corrections to the business before they become costly. Expediting critical data that once took a month to generate, the application has significantly impacted profitability, Franzel says. It has also changed the way IT supports the business and enhanced the value of the information the department provides. Rather than spending time on issue and asset management, IT resources can focus on business outcomes. Where once business intelligence was a project, now it is a fundamental part of standard operations.

Before business intelligence, employees from every level at OFS expressed a need and looked to their IT team to fill it. Franzel and his team listened to their concerns and that’s exactly what impressed them about Information Builders. A strategic partner, says Franzel, is what companies must be looking for. Any vendor can solve today’s problems, but the ones CIOs should search for are those that will help their business reach the goals of tomorrow.