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Global CIO: Microsoft BI Wins Raves From Giant Shipping Company

The world's second-largest container shipper is using PowerPivot for Excel to manage massive demand for data and overcome a "nightmare."

The world's second-largest shipping company was in danger of becoming a victim of its own success as its insatiable appetite for data and analysis generated 200 billion SQL transactions last year, straining the limits of its various BI tools and almost overwhelming the frenzied team of specialists working around the clock to generate an endless stream of reports.

And as is the case with most companies, said Mediterranean Shipping Co. CTO Fabio Catassi, "none of the decision-makers had the time or inclination to build up the skills necessary" to handle the cumbersome data-extraction processes.

But just because they weren't willing to learn how to cook didn't mean they were willing to stop eating.

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"Due to the nature of our global business, we're an extremely data-intensive company," Catassi said by phone this week. "So each time the executives and decision-makers would see the results of a new report they had requested, they would say, 'Oh, good, this is very interesting—and now that I see this, we need to know even more, so please go get me more and more.' And that just led to more strain on the systems and the people."

Describing privately held Mediterranean Shipping as "a company that is run on Excel," Catassi said the surging demand for more insights into business operations and opportunties and logistical choices was a nightmare as his IT organization struggled to meet that demand with tools that were simply not up to the job.

"We became super-inventive with Excel in scheduling 50 reports to be produced overnight, building macro tables and such, but it was a nightmare—half a million files, home-made extraction systems, and the need to support a global company running 24/7. I realized we were functional but almost out of control," Catassi said.

An upbeat leader speaking perfect English with an Italian accent, Catassi said the nightmare ended when Mediterranean Shipping began using Microsoft PowerPivot for Excel, and that with the introduction of Excel 2010 plus PowerPivot for SharePoint, he and his team have begun getting out in front of the data demand.

Two weeks ago, we analyzed Microsoft's desire to turn those tools into widely deployed BI enablers in a column called Global CIO: Microsoft Pushes BI For The Masses: 500 Million Prospects. While many small software companies—as well as some large ones—claim they've been on a similar campaign for some time, the very fact that BI is still almost exclusively the province of specialists proves that those efforts have not been successful.

That could well change with Microsoft as the driver because no other software company—ever—has been able to match Microsoft's ability to deliver professional tools to the masses (and 500 million is the number of Office users). Google is deeply committed to changing that historical perspective, but at least for now, Microsoft's achievement in that regard has been singular--and Catassi is a true believer:

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