Setting a course for success
Take a closer look at your shopping cart and you’re likely to find that many items were manufactured overseas. From electronics and kids’ toys to foodstuffs and clothing, a huge number of products arrive on our shelves after a long journey at sea. For logistics companies like Unifeeder, ensuring that these voyages are managed as efficiently as possible is critical to protecting profits in an increasingly competitive industry.
Operating as a vital link between major international shipping hubs and smaller ports in Northern Europe and across the Mediterranean, Unifeeder’s network of shipping routes plays a crucial role in regional and global supply chains.
Martin Nyhuus, Manager, Performance Management at Unifeeder, begins: “Our feeder shipping business is all about scale: the goal is to consolidate as much cargo to as few ships as possible, while maintaining enough flexibility to get our clients’ goods to their destinations as quickly as we can.”
To this end, optimizing routes and cargos is a top priority. “In practical terms, it costs as much to sail a ship that is only loaded to 80 percent capacity as it does to sail a completely full vessel,” says Martin Nyhuus. “So by maximizing the utilization of the vessel, we can make the trip much more cost-efficient. We also plan routes very carefully in order to send out a smaller number of larger ships whenever we can—this helps to reduce fuel consumption and keep our operations profitable.”
For managers to make informed business decisions concerning routes, vessel utilization and fuel economy, they need a unified overview of operations and company performance.
Martin Nyhuus comments: “To make the right decisions, you need the right information, which is why we wanted to build on our existing analytics capabilities. We wanted to improve the quality and comprehensiveness of our reports to give better support to our decision-makers.”
Full steam ahead
Having used IBM® Cognos® Business Intelligence as its front-end reporting tool for over a year, Unifeeder seized the opportunity to upgrade to IBM Cognos Analytics upon its release.
Martin Nyhuus recalls: “We had been using an earlier version of Cognos Business Intelligence but, after seeing the intuitive new interface of Cognos Analytics, we decided to upgrade right away. On top of its powerful analytics engine, Cognos Analytics now has a user interface that can compete with the best modern visualization tools.”
Unifeeder worked with IBM Business Partner Kapacity to install and configure the solution, before getting to work on creating reports themselves.
“Instead of just hiring Kapacity to build a new platform and reporting structure based on Cognos Analytics, we wanted to do it ourselves with as little assistance as possible,” says Martin Nyhuus. “We feel it is very important to develop our in-house skills with Cognos Analytics. We design and create all reports ourselves, drawing on the technical and the business knowledge of our team to ensure that the reports meet our very specific requirements. We also maintain the solution ourselves, and continue to work with Kapacity to develop our skills.”
He continues: “Cognos Analytics is easier for our analysts to use, thanks to its more modern user interface. And if we need help with a technical question, the Kapacity team is always there for us. We appreciate having an expert partner on hand to support us when we need it, but are most pleased that we’re able to work independently and create our own customized reports.
“We’ve been very impressed with the versatility of the solution—you can achieve pretty much whatever you want! The design team can start off with a sketch for a new report on a whiteboard, and then go and make that vision a reality. Powerful visualization capabilities enable us to create engaging custom reports for different audiences, from senior management to operational teams.”
Armed with IBM Cognos Analytics, Unifeeder can deliver comprehensive, compelling customized reports to support smarter decision-making.
“We can deliver much more detailed overviews of the business than we could in the past,” remarks Martin Nyhuus. “We can also tailor content more easily. The flexibility of design is fantastic—we can customize reports for the intended audience in a way that helps them get the most out of the information.”
“For example, we’ve been able to simplify reports for our operations team to make them easier to understand at a glance. We use colors to emphasize certain aspects in reports to communicate the most relevant information for their day-to-day work. For C-level executives, on the other hand, we can build much more comprehensive and sophisticated reports to give them the deep level of insight they need.”
With reports covering everything from shipping routes to fuel economy available via a SharePoint portal, management teams at Unifeeder have all the information they need to inform strategic planning available in one place.
Martin Nyhuus comments: “It’s very easy to embed reports into SharePoint so that users can open them in the same browser. It’s a small thing, but it makes life easier for users who need quick, easy access reports, and don’t want to have to log in to a separate interface. Managers can click on a report, find the latest fuel consumption figures, keep track of how capacity, sailing speed and sea conditions affect efficiency, and plan future journeys accordingly.”
Unifeeder is currently working with Kapacity to enhance its analytical and reporting capabilities even further. The company plans to utilize its existing IBM Cognos TM1® and SPSS® Modeler solutions— currently used for financial planning—to help support operational decision-making.
Martin Nyhuus concludes: “There are so many interesting questions that have direct implications for cost efficiency. What difference does it make to fuel efficiency if a ship sails at 14 knots instead of 10, for example? Does it make sense to sail slower on some routes, or in certain conditions? What is the best way to maximize efficiency? With our IBM Analytics tools, we can delve deeper into our data, find patterns and correlations, and identify areas for improvement—helping us to cut costs, maintain profits and stay competitive.”