Ashok Leyland makes high-quality insights available to all through Tableau

Digital transformation underway

Ashok Leyland is the second largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles in India, the 4th largest manufacturer of buses in the world, and the 16th largest manufacturer of trucks globally. Headquartered in Chennai, India, the company has a turnover in excess of US $ 2.3 billion (2012-13) and a footprint that extends across 50 countries, including several joint ventures with other leading global manufacturers such as Nissan Motor Company (Japan), John Deere (USA).

The commercial vehicle business in India has become highly competitive over the years. While there were only two players in the market just a decade ago, today, there are ten players scrambling to get a foothold. In order to maintain—or, better, improve—its market position Ashok Leyland needed to continue to reduce costs and improve differentiation.

The company is in the process of undergoing a full-blown digital transformation, with a vision to build an organization that makes decisions based on data-driven business intelligence and insights.

“Business Intelligence was a key aspect of building an information culture,” said Venkatesh Natarajan, Vice President, Information Technology at Ashok Leyland. “The question for us was - how do we get people to use information for daily decision making?”

While Ashok Leyland was already using other BI tools for their reporting capabilities, these tools had limitations in terms of providing a dashboard facility that the business was looking for. Rather than a transactional, hygiene reporting tool, the company was keen to invest in a ‘self-service’ insights tool that would provide deep, specific insights that a user could slice and dice as required.

“We knew that if we hoped to proliferate an information culture across the board and democratize information access, we needed an analysis and insights tool that has a self-service functionality, interactive features and is user friendly,” said Mr. Venkatesh Natarajan. “Also, pictorial depiction always provides a much better 360 degree insight rather than a tabular format. So, the tool needed to enable that.”

Building an Information Culture

Ashok Leyland launched its own extensive research to find the analytics tool that would meet its requirements and identified Tableau from the Gartner Magic quadrant.

While the IT team was happy with the features that Tableau provided, it started off with a trial version to check the practical applications of the software. The team was particularly impressed with Tableau’s columnar data engine, which drastically cuts down on time taken to mine data.

“Using the trial version, we built dashboards and socialized them with senior management. The feedback was extremely positive. For us to be able to invest in the tool, getting buy-in from top management was crucial,” said Mr. Venkatesh Natarajan.

Once they saw the demo, management was convinced about the power and capability of the software, especially the depth, interactivity etc.

Mr. Venkatesh Natarajan said, “Like every responsible organization, each investment at Ashok Leyland is looked at through a microscope. So, every investment had to make absolute business sense, especially given the difficult market environment at the time. But the Tableau investment was done without a hitch because the management saw it as adding a new capability, a new strategic tool to help differentiate us from competition.”

Once the software was acquired, the IT team started looking for areas where the insights would be most useful. The idea was to create an ‘information hungry’ organization where decisions are based on solid data and reliable insights. Tableau is being used across departments such as sales, quality, service, operations and HR.

“We looked at Tableau not as a reporting tool but rather as an insight tool. Basically, we want our employees to become data scientists who can visualize the kind of information they need and demand it from the organization. Stimulating a cultural transformation that encourages people to think deeper was a primary objective of the digital transformation,” said Mr. Venkatesh Natarajan.

While Tableau is accessible across levels at Ashok Leyland, it is well-leveraged by junior and middle management, who can then make strategic recommendations to senior management based on the insights they acquire. Today, Ashok Leyland is analyzing about 4 TB of data and approximately 5 million rows from SAP and CRM.

Ashok Leyland is using data sources including Net Weaver Business Warehouse, Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL and external files to connect to Tableau.

Ashok Leyland has also invested in the Tableau Server, for publishing interactive workbooks. Server allows Ashok Leyland to control access regionally, so users see only the information they are permitted. Using Server, the company is also able to ensure data security, which is extremely critical given the dire consequences of data leakages.

We measure the success of this software in terms of ‘Eureka’ moments that it brings. And there have already been plenty of those with Tableau.

Creating ‘Eureka’ moments

The software enables customized views that can provide personalized insights to each division.

“We measure the success of this software in terms of ‘Eureka’ moments that it brings,” said Mr. Natarajan. “And there have already been plenty of those with Tableau.”

For example, the head of Ashok Leyland’s Quality was able get deeper insights on warranties and able to improve product quality.

“The ease of use and the speed at which we can get phenomenal insights has had a definite impact on the organization,” said Mr. Venkatesh Natarajan. “Building dashboards—an activity that earlier took up to ten days now gets done in half a day!”

Business units are able to set specific, yet aggressive targets for business, since they are confident about the insights that Tableau illuminates.

Ashok Leyland is currently training more staff members to design and build analyses. A plan to build a data analytics team is also in the offing.

“Tableau is a great way for the IT team to become popular within the organization simply because it helps so many teams do their work better,” said Mr. Venkatesh Natarajan.