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Ricoh modernizes its analytics with Qlik

The information management and digital services company is beginning to develop a data culture, and the BI vendor's platform has enabled new efficiencies.

The Qlik analytics platform is now a pervasive part of the Ricoh ecosystem, not only fueling data-informed decisions but also driving a cultural shift.

Ricoh -- an information management and digital services company founded in1936 and based in Tokyo with U.S. headquarters in Exton, Penn. -- first began using analytics tools from Qlik in its human resources department in 2017.

At the time, Ricoh deployed Microsoft Power BI in multiple departments to integrate with Excel reports and continues to use the platform for that purpose. In addition, Ricoh used Tableau in some departments but no longer has a relationship with the vendor, according to Andrew Hood, Ricoh's senior manager of business visualization.

Two years after first using Qlik in its HR department, Ricoh also started using Qlik in its finance department. Eventually, sales began using Qlik as well.

Now, as more employees within Ricoh see benefits of self-service analytics and want to work with data, demand for analytics projects is becoming too great for Hood and his team. As a result, Ricoh has plans to expand how it uses Qlik by decentralizing its data operations and taking advantage of the domain expertise of people working in different departments, according to Hood.

"We want to push out some of the development within Qlik to our different business groups," he said. "We're trying to enable them to use the tool and organically grow its use throughout the organization."

Problems and a solution

When Ricoh first started working with Qlik, it faced some of the typical problems of organizations without a defined analytics strategy.

Data was isolated in different departments and, therefore, impossible for someone in one department to access from another or even know whether that data existed. Data duplication was rampant. Building reports was a manual process. And there was little oversight.

The result was inefficiency.

Power BI was effective, but Ricoh only made minimal use of the platform. The company used Power BI to integrate with Excel spreadsheets and visualize the data inside them to create reports. But it was not connected to Ricoh's data warehouse and not used in more advanced data analysis, according to Hood. Ricoh's use of Tableau was also minimal, with analytics not yet part of the culture at Ricoh.

That began to change in 2017 when Ricoh started using Qlik to inform its HR department. Ricoh built out the Qlik platform from there by extending the analytics vendor's capabilities to Ricoh's finance and sales departments.

A sample dashboard from Qlik
A sample dashboard from Qlik shows the sales performance of various retail outlets.

Though once just a BI vendor, one of Qlik's current main capabilities is its data integration platform, a result of its acquisitions of Attunity in 2019 and Blendr.io in 2020. With Qlik, Ricoh broke down the fragmented data sources that had developed over time. Its data is now integrated, reducing many barriers to accessing and minimizing data duplication.

"What Qlik has allowed us to do is really integrate and have more of the controls around our data than [we had before]," Hood said. "Qlik has allowed us to leverage connectors [to data warehouses] to have more control over our data and what is being reported."

Expanded use

Once the data was organized, Ricoh drove adoption.

Hood and his colleagues built efficiencies in the reporting, which meant developing dashboards that business users throughout the organization could consume for self-service analysis and KPI monitoring.

Those dashboards, meanwhile, are live, updating as new data is collected so that end users can make decisions in real time on the most current information.

That's of particular benefit in sales, where data-informed decisions drive Ricoh's business.

"We're able to provide futuristic insights so users can look at their pipeline and understand whether they have the necessary pipeline to support their sales targets," Hood said. "That's been integral. The data has always been there, but they haven't had the consolidated, consistent, quick view to glean insights in real time."

And that, ultimately, is Ricoh's goal.

While Hood and Ricoh's team of data professionals are still the ones overseeing the company's data operations and developing its data assets, self-service users are making the decisions.

"Our goal is to have end users be the interactors," Hood said. "Rather than have reports sent to someone's inbox, we want end users to really interact with data. That's where Qlik is driving insights within our company. They're getting things that they wouldn't get out of a traditional Excel report."

The end result of Ricoh's application of analytics tools from Qlik has been improved efficiency, according to Hood.

For example, Hood noted that before Ricoh began using Qlik, a typical finance report intended to inform a presentation took days to put together. Now, by using live dashboards, the development of those same reports are automated, and the information to inform a presentation is available immediately.

"I don't have a [dollar] number to what Qlik has meant, but from a human capital perspective, people are now able to go do more analytic work and not have to put PowerPoints together," Hood said. "That's been a tremendous savings."

Future plans

Though Ricoh has improved efficiency in multiple departments with Qlik, the company is still just getting started with analytics.

Ricoh's deployment is on premises rather than in the cloud. It's in the process of moving its data warehouse to the cloud, and even having just some of its data in the cloud has let Ricoh refresh its data faster than when all of it was on premises, leading to more real-time decision-making. Once more data is in the cloud, Ricoh plans to use Qlik's SaaS offerings, according to Hood.

Whether Ricoh eventually takes advantage of some of Qlik's more advanced capabilities -- like machine learning and augmented intelligence features such as Insight Advisor and Advisor Chat -- remains to be seen, he continued.

"We don't really have a roadmap for those features and functionalities right now," Hood said. "We're still early in our journey with Qlik. What our concentration has been is to get our data in a good place to be consumed, and Qlik is allowing use to drive that forward. The only thing that we would be driving toward is the SaaS offering."

Beyond migrating to the cloud, Ricoh's current roadmap is to extend Qlik to more people with the organization.

Demand for Qlik tools has gotten too much for Hood and Ricoh's other data experts. Following the formation of a steering committee, the company plans to decentralize its data operations and establish data leaders with each department.

"We have more demand for dashboarding and efficiencies in reporting than we can handle," Hood said.

Challenges

Analytics technology, despite all Qlik has enabled Ricoh to accomplish over the past handful of years, remains complicated.

It takes training and expertise to use most tools, even as business intelligence has evolved to include technologies like data storytelling, which automates narratives about data to explain the numbers in plain language, and natural language processing, which lets users engage with data using words rather than code.

Despite all the advances in technology, analytics adoption remains stuck in most organizations at around one-quarter to one-third of all employees.

We're able to provide futuristic insights so users can look at their pipeline and understand whether they have the necessary pipeline to support their sales targets. That's been integral. The data has always been there, but they haven't had the consolidated, consistent, quick view to glean insights in real time.
Andrew HoodSenior manager of business visualization, Ricoh

Ricoh is hoping to make Qlik accessible to as many people within the company as possible by having domain experts work with others in their departments to organically grow the use of the analytics platform. But using a BI tool -- whether Qlik, Tableau, Power BI or any of their competitors -- takes some level of training and expertise.

"Qlik is a relatively easy tool to learn compared to others to learn, but I don't think it's the easiest thing to learn," Hood said.

In particular, he noted that the development of dashboards and other data assets takes time to learn, as does some of the more complex analysis. Consuming dashboards, reports and models in Qlik is much easier.

"It's a simple tool to get started and use," Hood said. "It really depends on the end user and their appetite to learn. The thing I've loved about Qlik is that there's a tremendous community of users. So if you're someone that has the drive to learn, there's a lot of information out there, and you can self-teach your way into Qlik."

Meanwhile, as Ricoh is familiarizing more employees with Qlik and using the platform's analytics capabilities, analytics is becoming part of the culture at Ricoh.

"Qlik is forcing us to have conversations about our data that we weren't having before," Hood said. "Just having Qlik in the room is driving those discussions, which is super important. From that standpoint, Qlik has done wonders for us."

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