Building a Data Culture and Creating an Accountable Procurement Process with Qlik Sense
Providing access to information is like taking off a blindfold. Once people can see the facts, figures, and trends driving your operations, they can make better decisions and gain more control, thereby transforming the organisation. But how do you choose who sees what and when? The secret to a successful data transformation is matching the right people with the right information.
Western Power is a Western Australian State Government-owned corporation that operates an electricity distribution and transmission network that connects 2.3 million customers across a vast territory. We’ve provided West Australians with safe, reliable, and efficient electric power for over 70 years using traditional and, more recently, renewable energy sources.
As a Government Trading Enterprise that manages complex infrastructure and reports to state decision-makers, Western Power must stay on top of our data. For these reasons, we’ve made substantial investments in a data warehouse managed by our Information Technology team.
Embracing Qlik Sense in Our Commercial Division
As the Procurement Excellence Manager in our Commercial Function, my team provides and supports the systems and reports for all contracts and orders issued to our suppliers. We have a lot of information coming in and going out, and use multiple tools and systems for specific aspects of our work. For example, SAP Ariba is mainly our procure-to-pay platform, while we also use Ellipse to purchase inventory items and process payments to our suppliers. With separate applications for issuing orders, awarding contracts, paying invoices, and the like, we had completely separate data flows.
Our reporting landscape was quite disjointed in 2017, with multiple Microsoft Access Databases used to store different data sets, such as contracts, purchase orders, and invoices. This meant accessing commercial information and reporting on external spend required manual effort to combine, cleanse, and validate the data, prior to producing a monthly reporting pack. Users had to hop between different applications, attempting to connect the dots and copying and pasting data from one place to another. It was a time-consuming and frustrating experience for our stakeholders and team to produce accurate and insightful reports.
When situations arose where a report was urgently required, it meant someone from my team, who knows and understands the data well and has access to the systems, would need to re-set priorities to ensure the report was delivered when required. Unfortunately, this sometimes meant early starts and late finishes.
I believe having a strong team structure is one of the key success factors to any IT transformation. I saw an opportunity to establish a new team to support not only the reporting side but also the system side, in other words, bringing the input (IT system) closer to the output (reporting). Utilising existing resources and with the support of the Management Team, I assembled the team and appointed Christian Lebe as the team leader.
One of the biggest challenges facing the team is to proactively monitor financial commitments from contracts awarded and orders issued, to ensure compliance in our procurement activities. Our reports must allow our stakeholders to analyse information, whilst ensuring our confidentiality obligations are maintained.
Gaining Clarity Through Our Spend Analysis App
Our Qlik journey started by converting several Microsoft Access Databases into multiple Qlik Applications. This brought us one step closer to the ideal scenario, but more needed to be done.
Despite the simplicity of Qlik Sense, we required support to produce a report that respected confidentiality agreements and consolidated data from multiple systems and apps. So, we secured Sergey Makushinsky of Qurious Solutions to architect a Spend Analysis app: a single app that would bridge our systems, manage permissions, and provide an all-in-one view with a few clicks.
One of the main contributing factors to the success of the Spend Analysis app build was combining three different skillsets into the project team: Mike Vincent, our Senior Business Partner, who knew the business process; Hazel Libarios, our Senior Reporting and Systems Specialist, who understood where to source the data; and Sergey, who had the Qlik technical skills.
Our Spend Analysis app streamlines our systems and data flows, which simplifies maintenance and makes future developments easier. It also eliminates workarounds, significantly minimising the chance of human error when manually extracting and combining reports. Instead of cutting and pasting contract, order, and invoice details from one app to another, Qlik’s built-in hyperlinks generator connects users to Ariba SAP documents from within the Spend Analysis app. This enables users to directly interrogate purchasing transactions from the source, eliminating the need to bounce back and forth between systems and apps.
From a data governance perspective, the Spend Analysis app allows us to manage access to certain data. It’s important to empower people with data, but when you’re dealing with highly sensitive information, data security is paramount.
Ultimately, though, it wasn’t just enough to develop this application. We also needed to train users on the application in order to make it truly self-serve. This has provided time efficiencies to the team, allowing them to focus more on value-add work, whilst also introducing them to the endless possibilities of data. With Qlik, our users can easily visualise data and present the information. Not everyone is a data geek. Creating a simple-to-use application gives everyone—regardless of their comfort with data—the tools they need to better perform their job.
Together with the Qurious team, we’ve built this Qlik application in a modular way. We’ve developed a total of around 20 applications in Qlik Sense; around half of these applications reference the same modular foundation and QVD files, simply with a different visualisation.
Once you provide this level of information to business users, they always want more. And they want it customised. It’s like ice cream, where maybe someone wants sprinkles, someone else wants chocolate chips. Our team has worked hard to build this data foundation so that we can continue giving users exactly what they want and need.
Success in the Numbers
In the two years since we launched the Spend Analysis app, it has become a go-to application for the business. With over 90 users registered in its first three months, it is the second-most used Qlik app in the organisation. I am happy to say that the team is no longer staying late to draft other people’s reports.
Qlik has been an important tool in our digital roadmap. The Spend Analysis app, along with other applications we’ve built, has highlighted the fact that data plays an integral part in our business. This is a continuous journey. At one point, the Spend Analysis app was the end goal, but the goalposts have now moved. We took off the blindfold for our users, and they like what they see.