Qlik fuels solar equipment maker IronRidge's insights
The manufacturer is using the analytics vendor's platform to harness both internal and external data and inform decision-making throughout the solar firm's partner network.
With order and inventory data coming in from a broad array of partners, IronRidge used Qlik to first build a portal and then a product to track the status of all sales across its network of solar panel specialists.
IronRidge, founded in 1996 and based in Hayward, Calif., is an environmental and renewables company that manufactures the mounting racks for solar panels. Its model is to sell its materials through a partnership network of distributors who then work with installers to put solar panels in place for customers.
Before building a portal that could be used by both IronRidge itself and its partners to monitor the status of orders, data was disconnected and difficult to use to inform supply and demand trends.
IronRidge had data from its partners, but it was disorganized. The partners, meanwhile, had only their own data and no access to external data from similar vendors to give context to the internal information they collected.
IronRidge, therefore, began Project Rainbow to try to operationalize its data, to turn its data from a morass of disconnected information into an asset that could enable both IronRidge and its partners in solar panel installation to monitor all activity in real time and discover trends that could inform decision-making.
"Our vision is to make solar stronger," Robin Sarkar, IronRidge's senior manager of business intelligence and analytics, said recently during QlikWorld, the virtual user conference hosted by analytics vendor Qlik. "The strategic use of data is something [we use] to differentiate from the competition and has helped us be one of the leaders in the solar racking space."
Project Rainbow began, essentially, so IronRidge could develop a platform it could use along with its partners to reduce the risk of overstocking or understocking the materials needed to install solar panels.
"We wanted to be a portal to provide our partners to directly engage with their data to gain insights and guide them to take the right actions," Sarkar said. "It allows us to achieve a lot of operational efficiency."
Robin SarkarSenior manager of business intelligence and analytics, IronRidge
To build the portal, IronRidge partnered with Ginqo, a consulting firm specializing in analytics. With Ginqo's assistance, IronRidge deployed Qlik's analytics platform to develop Project Rainbow.
Qlik, founded in 1993 and based in King of Prussia, Penn., provides a data and analytics platform that enables customers to ingest data, manage and prepare it for analysis, visualize it to gain insight, and deliver auto-generated insights to users within the flow of their work using augmented intelligence and machine learning.
Its peers include Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and MicroStrategy, among others.
Simplicity was important to IronRidge as it developed its portal. It wanted the portal's users to be able to log in and immediately get an overview of their orders, inventory and incentive program information.
"Qlik is what we use for our entire BI system," Sarkar said.
One of the keys to the success of Project Rainbow was the willingness of IronRidge's partners to share their data related to the manufacturing and installation of solar panels.
That enabled the company's partners to view their own data and manage their own business using the portal while also gaining context by viewing external data. It also enabled IronRidge and Ginqo to build a simple, secure and scalable platform for viewing order and distribution data.
At the start, however, one of the main challenges was harnessing a vast amount of data and shielding its complexity from the end user.
In addition, IronRidge was concerned about data security.
But with the aid of Ginqo, IronRidge used Qlik to develop a simple interactive dashboard for partners to view and explore their data. The dashboard includes an overview of orders, inventory of solar panel equipment and incentive program information, and with clicks of a mouse users can dig deeper into their data to find discover granular details about individual transactions.
IronRidge built the dashboard on top of an on-premises database, but the company is in the process of migrating to the cloud, where it will use Qlik's SaaS platform "so we can use the latest and greatest features that Qlik allows," Sarkar said.
Eventually, IronRidge developed Project Rainbow from a portal just for the use of its partnership network into a product that other companies can use and rebranded it Compass.
Moving forward, it plans to use Qlik to add more capabilities to Compass.
Among the additions IronRidge has planned are including more external data sources, applications beyond tracking solar panel orders and inventory, and features such as alerting, process automation and predictive modeling, according to Sarkar.
In addition, the company will focus on data quality, he noted.
"We want to see how we can accurately predict [customer] behavior," Sarkar said.