"We had to assess where are the ships going, what are the commodities they're carrying, what is the weight, when are they due, etc., and then we tried to analyze whether they should come across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast, or go south and west from China through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to the East Coast."
Under the old system, Catassi said, that type of extensive evaluation would require a multi-day series of meetings. At the end of each day, the report-generation frenzy would begin, with Catassi's team doing the extracting, organizing, analyzing, and collating into a single massive report of 200 megabytes or more.
"And we'd take all that data and burn it onto CD's overnight and pass them out at the start of the next day's meeting," Catassi said.
"But not any more."
With the new Microsoft PowerPivot for Excel 2010 tools plus PowerPivot for SharePoint, the reports can be done in close to real time, Catassi said, and the functional but archaic process of burning CD's became little more than a company legend.
"That absolutely opened the floodgates, and now our executives and decision-makers want to use PowerPivot and SharePoint for everything," he said. "It's a real game-changer."
Catassi said that while those new products are much simpler to use than traditional BI tools, there's still some complexity involved that requires a certain expertise—but because most of that expertise involves Excel, the company's widespread familiarity with the spreadsheet's features has made that less of a challenge.
Because Mediterranean Shipping is a privately held company, Catassi said, he and his team have not been asked to compile rigorous ROI metrics for PowerPivot, but he said the savings in time, increased collaborative capabilities, reduced overnight strain on servers, and greatly reduced strain on the sanity of the IT team have been huge.
Catassi said the cost savings extend to the ways in which he and his team are now disseminating those massive data files to some or all of Mediterranean Shippings 100 offices worldwide. In the past, he said, "We dumped thousands of files each day into our data center, which would replicate them all and send them all to each of our branches. Now we can eliminate all that replication and we've also been able to cut our bendwidth costs accordingly."
"This has been tremendously beneficial," he said. "Here's one more small but important example: we rely heavily on the statistics published in the Journal of Commerce (full disclosure: the Journal of Commerce and InformationWeek are owned by the same corporate parent, United Business Media) on what's being shipped in and out of the U.S. by all the shipping companies. In the past, to combine that data with our internal data was a very big job.
"But now, we can just do it directly: we use the Excel Files and PowerPivot, and mix and match the data from external sources with our internal data. It's very easy," Catassi said. "In fact, I would say that the only reason that another CTO or CIO would not be excited about these new tools is that they must not have seen them yet."
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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