Based in New Zealand, Silver Fern Farms is a processor, marketer and exporter of premium quality lamb, beef, venison and associated products to more than 60 countries around the globe. The company needed a solution that could easily show not only the percentage of animals that weren’t high enough quality, but also a canvassing tool to identify potential new suppliers. And they wanted to select a tool that would be readily adopted by internal users.
Expanding Supplier Network
Representing more than 16,000 sheep, cattle and deer farmer-shareholders throughout New Zealand, Silver Fern Farms owns and operates 22 processing sites nationally. The company’s annual revenues are close to NZ$2 billion.
As one of New Zealand’s largest employers, Silver Fern Farms has over 7,000 staff working across the country during peak season. While the organisation was already tapping into a large network of farmers, it was looking to identify new suppliers.
“We have approximately 100 field workers that drive to the farms and procure animals for us,” says Aaron Hall, Business Analyst at Silver Fern Farms. “With 16,000 suppliers, we have a very large reach.” However, the company knew that there were still more potential suppliers out there—but where?
Cowan wanted a business intelligence (BI) solution that would help with prospecting. Silver Fern Farms had always been aware of market share and competitors, but it needed a way to expand its network of suppliers in an efficient and profitable way.
Making the Cut
“In the office, we are pretty much a top-to-bottom Microsoft shop,” says Stewart Cowan, Enterprise Systems Manager at Silver Fern Farms. “Four years ago, we noticed there was a real gap in the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack around specialisation in representing data in an appealing way, while being super easy to build.”
“We wanted to fill that gap because we could see the power of making attractive visualisations to share with our leadership team and senior managers,” explains Cowan.
“We were introduced to Tableau through our partner Montage around four years ago,” explains Cowan. “At the time, Montage was advising us on our whole data warehouse and BI strategy. The team there suggested we check out Tableau to bridge the gap in our BI stack.”
Montage handled the initial implementation of Tableau Desktop for five licenses and Tableau Server within Silver Fern Farms. Four years later, the company had 14 Tableau Desktop licenses that can be used to author interactive data visualisations.
“Our Tableau Server now has 60 interactor licenses that are available to all executives and senior managers at Silver Fern Farms,” says Cowan. “Visualisations are embedded within SharePoint pages in the company’s ‘HomeBlock’ intranet portal for easy access to Tableau visualisations within the wider context of collaboration and performance management.”
Geospatial Analysis and Making Sense of Location Data
“We use a variety of data sources that have up to 60 million rows,” says James Mahoney, Business Intelligence Architect at Silver Fern Farms. “Generally, our main source of information is our data warehouse. We then add geospatial information that we procure from a different area.”
Initially, Tableau was mainly installed and used by employees in the livestock procurement department.
“Because of the dashboards Tableau allows us to create, our data becomes visual. It’s all laid out on a map,” adds Cowan. “We can look at a particular region and quickly see the patches of farmland that don’t currently supply to us.”
“Before using Tableau, our field teams were driving past farms for years not realising they were potential suppliers,” says Cowan. “But now that we have the information visually represented on a map, it’s very clear to pinpoint new suppliers we can approach. And we can also see which farms supply to our competitors and more easily target them.”
“Since gaining access to this data through an intuitive visualisation, we have seen tangible gains in market share,” explains Cowan
Moving from Pivot Tables to Exciting Visualisations
Visualising procurement data worked so well that Silver Fern Farms has expanded its use of Tableau into other areas of the business.
“Now, we use it across a variety of departments from sales, finance right through to corporate,” says Cowan. “It’s really the slice and dice feature that’s been most useful for analysts in our organisation.”
“Our analysts can quickly manipulate data in ways that are a lot more useful to them than working with pivot tables or Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services reports,” says Hall. “Tableau has proven to be really useful to create dashboards on the fly and show people particular visualisations on the spot.”
“It’s certainly a tool that our employees get pretty excited about when they look at our visualisations,” explains Hall. “They might not get so excited about our reports if they were presented in a pivot table!”
“But when we do put interesting visualisations in front of them, they seem to engage more with those dashboards and reports,” says Hall.
“They need virtually zero training,” says Cowan. “We give them the viz and as long as it’s designed correctly, Tableau takes care of the rest. It’s just very intuitive.”
“Our senior management team also use Tableau to create geographical and visual representations of customer claims,” says Mahoney.
Claims are made by customers when they receive and reconcile deliveries from Silver Fern Farms suppliers that differ from their initial order. Since implementing Tableau, the team has access to a clear overview of discrepancies in orders.
“This information was previously only available via detailed line-by-line reports which were often lengthy to process and analyse,” explains Mahoney. “Tableau now provides the team with a quick and easy comparative analysis between plants and animal types.”