While Winston Churchill never built a cloud-based data repository, when he said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” — he would undoubtedly relate to the struggle most enterprises face finding success transforming legacy data architectures.
The path to successfully unifying complex enterprise data silos proved challenging for infrastructure building materials, products and services provider Oldcastle Infrastructure. As Nick Heigerick, senior manager of advanced analytics at Oldcastle Infrastructure, explains, the company had difficulty obtaining a comprehensive view of their data held within disparate on-premises SQL Server and cloud NetSuite data sources. This was negatively impacting the company’s ability to make timely business decisions.
For instance, with the two systems in place, there was no unified view of Oldcastle Infrastructure’s business transactions or production data. As a result, Oldcastle Infrastructure was likely losing opportunities to increase sales and margins on revenue. One such area proved to be simply gathering financial data and reports, something Heigerick explains would take upwards of ten days to complete.
“It was certainly a drag,” Heigerick says. “We needed a way to become more efficient with our data.”
The Oldcastle business intelligence team knew how to become more efficient by moving to the cloud and unifying the data, and that’s what they set out to do. But as Churchill warned, getting to success would consist of moving through failure.
In their first effort, the team attempted to migrate to a cloud ERP system, but unfortunately, the selected ERP system did not provide the functionality they sought. “We pulled the plug on that because we realized that ERP would not fit our needs. We built a better-looking ERP in the cloud than we had on-premises. But it wasn’t what we needed,” explains Heigerick.
Heigerick and the BI team sought a better way. For this attempt, they turned to a systems integrator. They got to work migrating to another cloud SQL database and creating their data connectors from NetSuite to the new target cloud database. But after eight months of planning and data pipeline work, they couldn’t get the data to match. The “data was in really bad shape,” he explains. “We had to find another way and essentially start from scratch.”
Building Functional Data Pipelines Proved Difficult
A persistent challenge throughout this effort, Heigerick explains, was building persistent data connections to NetSuite. “Because NetSuite constantly changes its API, maintaining the data pipelines proved challenging. And we only have limited staff to dedicate to maintaining this,” he said. Yet, a persistent and reliable data pipeline to NetSuite was fundamental to their success.
This time, the BI team turned to another advisor, InterWorks, which helped the team to design the correct fix. The team selected Snowflake as its data repository and Tableau as its business intelligence platform. Heigerick explained how he appreciated Snowflake’s ability to optimize SQL Server through its micro-partitioning capabilities and ability to scale up and down dynamically.
That left only the ETL (extract, transform, load) challenges to solve.
Building Effective Data Pipelines
The team needed to find an ETL tool to maintain persistent data connections to NetSuite. Oldcastle’s business intelligence team isn’t alone in its search for more effective data integration. According to a market research report from Markets and Markets, the data integration market size is expected to grow from roughly $12 billion in 2021 to nearly $20 billion by 2026.
After Heigerick’s search, the team selected ETL and data integration provider Fivetran to centralize Oldcastle Infrastructure’s data. The team would attempt the implementation over a weekend. And that Friday, the business intelligence team met with Fivetran specialists and Oldcastle’s networking team to ensure that Fivetran was connected correctly to NetSuite and that the correct permissions were established to build the anticipated data pipelines.
After confirming everything was set up correctly that weekend, the team set up their Fivetran proof-of-concept and began replicating NetSuite with the data connections to Snowflake. “We pushed the button, and over the weekend, we had everything we had been trying to build. We had our custom fields, our tables, everything,” he says.
“If we had tried connecting NetSuite to the new system ourselves, it would have taken a year and four full-time employees,” he estimates. Today, Snowflake is updated hourly, and Oldcastle’s business intelligence team doesn’t have to worry about getting data to the Snowflake and Tableau system.
And with the new systems, the BI team can provide more than just basic status reports, but be a strategic intelligence partner. “When someone has a question, we can dig in and take the time to understand what the business challenges are. We can look at the strategic things they are trying to accomplish. And we can show how the analytics can help make that transformation or initiative successful. We’re able to have a real partnership with the business,” he said.
The team continued to integrate other systems after the successful data integrations with the Snowflake and Tableau system and NetSuite. Today, the integrations include Box, Coupa, Salesforce, and more than 30 other applications, which provide the company’s data analysts with better analysis through unified data sets.
Return on Investment and Positioning for Growth
Modernizing Oldcastle Infrastructure’s business technology has also helped position Oldcastle Infrastructure for future growth. Heigerick explains that migrating to the cloud enabled the team to minimize overall maintenance costs, increase stability and increase scalability compared to their previous environment.
Heigerick says that while it’s difficult to determine an exact ROI, he estimates an annual ROI from the new system ranges from 130% to 400%. “We calculated our initial savings ROI based on the savings of one full-time employee. But we realized to get the system up and running the way we were trying probably would have taken four full-time employees,” he explains.
“We would have had to spend so much time and money just keeping that thing up and running,” he says. Heigerick estimates Oldcastle Infrastructure also saves between $500,000 and $750,000 in IT maintenance costs every four years and saved roughly $360,000 in initial setup and maintenance of their SQL Server and NetSuite connectors. “This has changed how we get value from our data, and I wouldn’t consider doing it another way,” says Heigerick.