November 2, 2020

Intelligent insights at scale improve efficiency for global logistics leader

As a global leader in logistics, Mainfreight continuously innovates to stay ahead of competitors. They’ve been the first to market with many game-changing solutions and are hot on the heels of new technology opportunities.

Mainfreight began creating a global business intelligence platform for their Air & Ocean business (International Freight) but were struggling to fully achieve their goals – especially when they started to scale out the solution. Initially, this was a technical challenge and Theta was engaged to make security and performance enhancements to the existing Air & Ocean reporting. As time progressed, a remit to review and advise their entire BI strategy and structure began. John Eshuis, Group IT Manager at Mainfreight comments,

“The first stage was the proof of concept model for our Air & Ocean data. Once we solved the performance issues, with Theta’s expertise, we were in a position to present it to our Management Team. Demonstrating the solution’s flexibility, speed, and power enabled the regional managers to see the possibilities for their business.”

Recognising the challenges

The attention shifted to incorporating Warehousing and Transport onto this proven platform. The challenge was to move from many locally-focused reports - manually generated using spreadsheets or locally maintained Power BI Desktop solutions - to a dynamic global solution.

Mainfreight saw a need to improve report generation and the ability to source data at scale and without time limit restrictions. With the existing methodology, there were time inefficiencies and risk of disparate reports. John explains,

“There were lots of people doing the same thing but in different ways. We had at least 20 people across the world, creating reports at a localised reporting level. We really needed something on a global scale. In fact, our ultimate challenge is to provide a single dashboard for the team where they can be right up to play with all the key data for any customer just before they step into a meeting with them.”

Global KPI data, such as revenue, was also difficult to see. The lack of a single view and a single source of truth made it harder to produce timely reports with a consistent look and feel to other parts of the business. This was also confusing to customers that traded with Mainfreight globally. A central repository wasn’t available. It also led to ‘spreadsheet debt’: the monthly hours to prepare reports and send off across numerous regions and countries.

Talking the same language with workshops

An initial BI Governance workshop raised the idea of Data Vault as a perfect solution for Mainfreight’s requirements. The agile nature of Data Vault matched Mainfreight’s agile way of working and gave flexibility for improvements and growth. Data Vault allows Mainfreight to meet current requirements as well as explore more advanced analytics in future. A review of Power BI confirmed it the best reporting tool to use. At this meeting, CIO Kevin Drinkwater also coined the new name for the project ‘MainTel’ (MAINfreight inTELligence), following the lead from other projects that leverage and celebrate the Mainfreight brand.  

“With the workshops, key deliverables started to become clearer with what we were trying to do,” says John. “It took away the technical piece and let us focus on business concepts that were important to us. Our people are business analysts, with a business background, and so it was good for them to talk about what they needed in that context. We were able to create easy-to-follow definitions: for the teams that are involved, for the new areas we’re tackling and for new team members joining the project.”

We also held workshops to explore opportunities and security. Mainfreight users from all over the world attended these, and were able to share reports and challenges, and what they hoped for with the new reporting solution.

As a result, we created a roadmap for the new data platform that displayed how the final picture should look.

An agile build process

A series of sprints support momentum and growth. The aim is to deploy into production every two weeks. Jira, Confluence and Microsoft Teams are used as communication channels - providing project transparency across different teams and time zones. We’re able to address and rectify questions quickly and continue nurturing the close-knit culture between the global Mainfreight and Theta teams.

After completing Air & Ocean, the Transport data was loaded. By populating the same business concepts and structure into Data Vault, the Air & Ocean and Transport dashboards could be viewed by simply refreshing Power BI. There’s no need to change the underlying data structures unless they require customisation. It allows Mainfreight to mesh dashboard components from the three business segments into a single dashboard so they can view a customer as a single entity across all segments. As John notes, there were some significant moments of the project,

“The first time we started to run dashboards that spanned multiple entities and multiple regions and were able to look at our data at such a macro level was a ‘wow’ moment. Within 10 seconds, we had dashboards loading for the world. We’ve never been able to do that. For me, that’s when it started to get exciting.”

Mainfreight now has a more comprehensive global view of their Air & Ocean and Transport divisions, and there are over 365 users worldwide using MainTel Dashboards.

“Another key moment was when we started seeing the additional databases coming through and how easily they folded into the whole model. All of a sudden I had this data that wasn’t there the day before. From our perspective, it’s very easy to see the data now. All the complications have been removed by the time our team need to use it.”      

As part of the ongoing project, Mainfreight Transport & Warehouse data experts in Europe are pulling their data into the mix too - growing analytical capability and insights globally. Whether it’s at a branch-specific, regional, national or global level, users have improved efficiency to find the up to date information that they need, when they need it.  The data in MainTel is accessed securely, so Mainfreight has complete control over users seeing the information to the permitted level.

From a user perspective, Air & Ocean and Transport divisions can source data quickly and easily. Heightened visibility means that customer-facing users have a broader view of their customers’ activities. It’s opening the door to even better conversations and a more personalised customer experience. In future, there’s scope to provide even more customer-specific insights with advanced analytics and integration of these insights into operational systems. As John summarises,

“We’re always improving how we can support our customers. They want to see the full supply chain, and we’re making that a reality.”

We continue to look for value-add innovation solutions together: only recently implementing a COVID data tracking solution to monitor the effects of this on Mainfreight business. This would have been extremely difficult without MainTel. In taking on crucial data analytics projects such as this, Mainfreight continues to lead the way.