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Crate & Barrel modernizes with MicroStrategy BI platform

The home decor chain added governance capabilities and sped time-to-insight by adopting the longtime analytics vendor's platform after 14 years using a legacy system.

Faced with limited data governance capabilities and long lead times for analytics projects, Crate & Barrel modernized its BI program with MicroStrategy.

The international home decor chain, founded in 1962 and based in Northbrook, Ill., was an early adopter of analytics, first implementing Business Objects -- later acquired by SAP in 2007 -- as its BI platform in 2003.

By 2017, however, the legacy on-premises platform no longer met Crate & Barrel's needs, according to Anupam Singh, Crate & Barrel's senior director of enterprise business intelligence.

Using Business Objects, Crate & Barrel's main objective was to build reports that could then be analyzed and lead to data-driven decisions.

But the retailer had limited data governance and documentation in place, according to Singh. In addition, those reading the reports sometimes weren't data literate and had to ask experts to decipher the various metrics and key performance indicators being analyzed, and there were often long lead times between the request for reports and their development.

"Our BI platform was dated," Singh said during MicroStrategy World 2022, the analytics vendor's recent virtual user conference. "We were running a few versions behind, and we had security gaps."

Moving to MicroStrategy

Knowing a more modern approach to analytics was needed, Crate & Barrel explored various BI platforms, and in 2017 decided to implement MicroStrategy.

MicroStrategy's Ulyana Uebersezig (left) speaks with Crate & Barrel's Anupam Singh (middle) and Arijit Kar.
MicroStrategy's Ulyana Uebersezig (left) speaks with Crate & Barrel's Anupam Singh (middle) and Arijit Kar during MicroStrategy World 2022, the analytics vendor's virtual user conference.

Crate & Barrel wanted to maintain a reports-driven approach, and MicroStrategy, founded in 1989 and based in Tysons Corner, Va., offered the ability to consume report services documents (RSDs) through its Library feature.

"One of the key reasons we picked MicroStrategy was because … we wanted to maintain the integrity of operational reports users were getting to cause minimal change management disruption," Singh said. "Only MicroStrategy RSD offered that option."

In addition, Crate & Barrel chose MicroStrategy because of its dossier authoring capabilities, real-time cloud-based analytics tools and ease of use, according to Singh.

Our BI platform was dated. We were running a few versions behind, and we had security gaps.
Anupan SinghSenior director of enterprise business intelligence, Crate & Barrel

Nevertheless, Crate & Barrel was slow to migrate from its on-premises Business Objects deployment to the MicroStrategy BI platform and its various deployment options, and by 2019 was using Business Objects and MicroStrategy in tandem and still had not fully made the transition away from its legacy system.

Facilitating change

In late 2018, Crate & Barrel formed a standalone strategy and BI group to develop a vision for the organization's full transformation.

That vision included plans to build a BI program that ensured consistent data availability, data accessibility and data quality.

The group decided it needed a flexible data intake process that could ingest data points from new systems and quickly provide insights rather than require the authoring of an entirely new report. In addition, it needed a platform that could make data available in a timely, accurate and consistent manner, and could enable self-service analysis to improve efficiency and remove bottlenecks.

To accomplish its vision, Crate & Barrel set out to build its BI team to resolve any resource gaps, consolidate its enterprise reporting tools, modernize its data warehouse and start a training program to upskill end users and reduce the burden on a centralized data team.

Beyond adjusting the organizational structure of its BI team, that meant fully migrating its BI operations to MicroStrategy and adopting Google Cloud Platform for its data warehousing needs.

The transformation ultimately took two years, and would have been less had the pandemic not disrupted plans, according to Singh. Crate & Barrel's stores fully transitioned to the MicroStrategy BI platform in February 2021, and its corporate headquarters transitioned in August 2021.

"We got it done, and we're super proud of it," he said.

As a result of its transformation, Crate & Barrel now has a data governance framework in place that includes the documented data lineage and data quality of all its analytics assets, has consolidated over 35,000 reports down to 400 and has consolidated more than 300 tables down to 180.

In addition, the organization's BI system now has over 500 users employing MicroStrategy's self-service capabilities, many in Crate & Barrel's store locations.

And though Crate & Barrel maintains a hybrid cloud and on-premises deployment, because of MicroStrategy's cloud capabilities, Crate & Barrel's users are able to drill much deeper into the data than they could previously when it was solely on premises, and the organization can easily scale to add more users as they become proficient.

Future plans

Crate & Barrel is just getting started with MicroStrategy, according to Singh.

In 2022, the organization plans to expand access to supply chain, human resources and e-commerce data sources, integrate customer data with operational data and explore more cloud-based opportunities with MicroStrategy.

Beyond this year, plans include deploying augmented analytics capabilities and expanding advanced analytics applications.

"We've come a long way," Singh said. "And we're excited about the future."

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