Silver Fern Farms New Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence Solution provides key agricultural organisation users with access to critical business information.
Silver Fern Farms is New Zealand’s leading procurer, processor and marketer of sheep, lamb, beef and venison. It is a co-operative that represents more than 20,000 sheep, cattle and deer farmers throughout New Zealand. With a history in New Zealand stretching as far back as 1948, the company was originally called Primary Producers Co-operative Society and traded under this name until 2008. They rebranded due to a change in company strategy from a production-based approach to one of being market-focused.
This new strategy was a fundamental philosophy change for Silver Fern Farms and is referred to as the ‘Plate to Pasture’ approach. It means the company now extensively researches the target market and supplies products that directly reflect customer demand.
Individual systems designed at the transactional level focused on separate areas of the business. However, these failed to provide the big picture analysis Silver Fern Farms needed for strategic decision making. Multiple legacy systems had been developed in-house over an extended period to focus on individual lines of business – while these worked well in isolation, they could not communicate directly with each other.
Each area of the business had the ability to generate multiple reports to reflect business activity for that specific area of the enterprise. A variety of manpower-intensive manual processes were used to provide consolidated reporting to the management team. Unfortunately these processes were laborious, inefficient and absorbed hours of staff resources every month.
In order to provide enterprise level reporting, a key factor in the new business strategy of ‘Plate to Pasture’, Silver Fern Farms began the process of creating a Data Warehouse and comprehensive Business Intelligence (BI) solution. The organization worked in conjunction with Montage Business Intelligence, a Microsoft partner with a gold competency in BI. Having worked with Silver Fern Farms for a number of years, Montage had developed a deep understanding of the company, so it was a logical choice to utilize their expertise to develop the new Data Warehouse solution for the enterprise.
The purpose of the Data Warehouse is to gain insights and develop strategies based on a complete enterprise picture of the business, as opposed to attempting to deduce business decisions from low level detail. For Silver Fern Farms there were three main components to the solution. Initially the key data requirements were identified. Next, a plan to integrate and transform the data was defined, while finally a process to deliver the data in the most efficient and straightforward manner was constructed. Using Microsoft technology, in particular SQL 2008 R2 and SharePoint 2010, as the Data Warehouse platform, provided Silver Fern Farms with extensive integration capability and a world-class presentation platform.
There are three layers in the SQL Server 2008 R2 Data Warehouse stack – staging, dimensional and reporting/analytical layers. The third layer is made up of two sections: a series of online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes built using SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS); and a denormalized relational database targeted at the end users. At Silver Fern Farms, a large amount of data capture is performed remotely at processing plants using SQL Server. These remote sites regularly feed data to a centralized processing point which is then populated through the Data Warehouse using SQL integration services. Key financial data is extracted from Microsoft Dynamics NAV in a highly incremental manner to provide ‘almost real time’ updates through the Data Warehouse to business users.
“The most important thing about starting a project like this is to have complete buy-in from both sides. Montage understood our business and worked in partnership with us to iron out all the tricky details before we began.”Peter Jenks
Business Intelligence Architect