Is Being Data Centric Enough? Why Kesko Created a Cohesive Data Utilization Strategy Instead


Many companies are on a quest to change their relationship with data. Usually, the aim is to capture more data to gain better insights into their operations. At Kesko, the opposite was true. We already had a wealth of data at our disposal. We just needed to use it more effectively.

Kesko is one of the biggest trading sector operators in Finland and Northern Europe with three divisions and 1,800 stores across seven countries. We focus on profitable growth strategies by leveraging digitalization and digital services with a strong focus on sustainability targets.

I have spent the last five years at Kesko, and the last three as Development Manager. My main focus area is the Grocery Trade sector. One could say I am one of many; we work as a network of data experts in diverse and often isolated functions to ensure common targets. This makes Kesko's mission of a "One Unified K" possible. While individual roles and jobs may vary, our goals are the same: to understand our business needs and enact our data strategies while improving customer experience and striving for a digitized future—all while operating more sustainably.

To improve in these areas and develop a holistic vision for the future, Kesko had to harness its vast amount of data. We had to discover what it meant to lead with data when we already had so much data at our fingertips.

Taking Stock of Kesko’s Data Environment

A few years ago, even though Kesko’s data had plenty of depth, its functionality was limited. Accessing data required people with SQL skills to run queries on an ad-hoc basis. As a result, our teams were not as self-sufficient as we would have liked.

When companies rely on query-based data analytics, teams can’t be self-sufficient.

Data analysis took a great deal of time, which led to bottlenecks and a slowdown of our data pipeline. Let's have a look at our typical monthly financial process as an example. Managers, eager to analyze their sector's monthly performance, expected completed reports with relevant data within the first few days of a new month. This wasn’t realistic under Kesko’s older data gathering model. The finance team couldn’t surface all relevant information without the help of an analytics team member. Once they received the necessary data, they had to spend time checking and compiling the data into meaningful reports. Additionally, it was difficult to provide fast insights at critical moments. We relied heavily on Excel to connect various pieces of the puzzle, which was neither efficient nor sustainable.

Kesko recognized these pitfalls and luckily, had acquired Qlik Sense to become more agile and improve BI for retailers. I came to Kesko a couple of years later, and it was my first time exploring such a detailed platform. I like to think of it as an evolved version of Cognos—stronger, more comprehensive, and with more self-service capabilities. Qlik Sense is also more accessible than other BI tools. It has a wealth of visualization options, it is super easy to build on, and generally provides much needed flexibility for different reporting needs. Qlik Sense also provides training opportunities to increase or expand your current knowledge base, constant feature development, and established version upgrades, all of which allows us to utilize its features to their full potential.

The decision to adopt Qlik Sense into wider use within Kesko was easy, and its usage trickled throughout the organization one use case at a time. 

Robust Functionality Leads to Organic Growth

The Kesko analytics team discovered Qlik Sense in a project involving the development of retailer reporting. The Grocery Trade business model is retailer based, meaning individual stores are owned by entrepreneurs and operate under the Kesko brand. According to our contractual agreements, Kesko is responsible for managing and providing access to retailer sales data. It is on us to make their data available, although we didn’t have very evolved options for doing this previously. We saw that Qlik Sense offered a lot of potential for self-service access to sales reporting and figured we’d give it a try. It was a huge success, and we continued to expand.

Today, Kesko’s Grocery Trade division has widely adopted Qlik Sense as a core part of daily life, and other divisions have followed suit. It was functionality, not a sales pitch, that led to organic growth in usage, and we continue to find new places to build reports and extract analytics.

A New Data Strategy Requires a Shift in Data Culture

Even with Qlik Sense in our tech stack, Kesko’s data culture was still somewhat young. To move forward, we required a more cohesive data strategy, as data and analytics are creating increasing value for our business at both strategic and operational levels.  

We aimed to review our overall architecture and data and analytics platform extensively to discover new opportunities for using data in more diverse ways, and increasingly in real time. Data itself is not valuable; rather, it is based on the benefits that can be produced using it.

Kesko is working hard to move away from being “data-centric” and embrace being a “data-utilizing” organization. Doing so changes our approach to data processing, data-driven management, digital services, and our overall data culture. We expect to double our data utilization rate by 2025, and to achieve that goal, we created a leading with data plan.

Kesko’s multi-year data plan is divided into three tiers: the foundation level, the operative level, and the strategic level. Everything is founded on working processes, operational systems, and functioning operations. Qlik Sense is integral to these efforts by offering coordinated and shared development, a single source of truth, simple reporting tools, and a wealth of end-user support. We also found great value in user access management controls that provide access to reports based on role. After all, leading with data does not mean access to all data, but to the right data. On the operative level, we implement and develop our chosen data strategies to ensure continuity. At the strategic level, we can move forward with supporting decision-making, setting targets, and looking ahead. 

We started with the basics: creating organized report modules for retailers depending on their use case. Then, we expanded to internal customers with additional customizations. We organized our data in Qlik Sense and improved our data quality to ensure the highest fidelity possible for our retailers, our internal users and other stakeholders.

Rethinking Access to Real-Time Sales Data

Kesko’s Qlik Sense integration could not have come at a better time. We already had everything needed to report figures and numbers during times of change, so when change came, we were ready.

The pandemic led to significant shifts in consumer shopping and purchasing behavior, and Kesko was immediately aware of the need to track real-time sales throughout our retailer stores. To follow up on sales, we relied on Qlik Sense's Qlik Deployment Framework (QDF) structure, which had already been built for other use cases, repurposing it into a versatile app within days. Using this app, we could easily track daily fluctuations in sales, compare them to other dates, and dig down all the way to the item level at the touch of a button.

The app was an instant success. It remains one of our most popular apps ever created for Grocery Trade, and we are very proud of it.

With Qlik Sense, Kesko could quickly, efficiently, and self-sufficiently access data. We no longer needed to fall back on dated ad-hoc data extraction. By coupling our extensive data with Qlik Sense’s expansive architecture, we could start expanding toward sustainable data leadership.

Meaningful Analysis Across Teams

Over the past few years, Qlik Sense has quickly become Kesko’s primary BI tool. We currently have 90 streams, 400 apps, 4,000 users, and more than 300,000 user sessions per year. Sales and marketing teams use the platform to understand our sales performance and customers, while logistics, wholesale, store services, and finance divisions spend hours exploring key KPIs and exploring data depths. An impactful use case within Kesko can be seen in the management reporting sector.

Let's cycle back to my earlier example about our typical monthly financial process. In Grocery Trade Finance, we produce individual monthly slide decks for each retail chain. Before Qlik Sense, gathering and compiling various KPIs was tiresome, time consuming, and required input from many people. Our finance team couldn’t find enough time to perform meaningful analysis, which prevented us—and our internal clients—from focusing on business needs. We decided to add many of our data interfaces into Qlik Sense to create a broader view of our retail KPIs, and the results have been remarkable.

Today, we no longer spend time gathering information to report to our internal customers. Instead, it takes just one hour to centrally gather the required KPIs for all our chains in the Grocery Trade, leaving plenty of time for analysis and appropriate action.

Innovating without Barriers

Data leadership is complex when you’re missing a critical piece of the puzzle. By layering Qlik Sense on top of our existing data, we began to make sense of everything and leverage those insights to develop impactful business decisions. 

Effectively utilized data empowers internal and external users to explore information sets, try new things, and innovate without barriers.

Current data is only the beginning. At Kesko, we also have plans to focus on predictive models, particularly hot data—business-critical information that needs to be accessed quickly for informed decision-making. Hot data will allow us to provide real-time services for suppliers and customers, and we see a lot of possibilities to increase reaction times and enhance data forecasting. We anticipate it will create transparency in our data flows and boost our performance.

Effectively utilized data empowers internal and external users to explore information sets, try new things, and innovate without barriers. At Kesko, we now leverage data together to exceed our customers' expectations.