Harnessing the Power of Unified Data: Advantage Solutions' Technological Transformation
Since its inception in 1987, Advantage Solutions has been a trailblazer in the realm of brand development, offering manufacturers and retailers a unique blend of sales, marketing, and technology solutions rooted in insightful analysis. Their journey has been marked by an ambitious growth strategy, with over 50 acquisitions since 2014 propelling them to the forefront as the nation's premier provider of in-store sales, merchandising, and marketing services.
Their clientele is a veritable who's who of the retail and consumer-packaged goods (CPGs) industries. From retail giants like Costco, Walmart, Target, and Kroger to renowned CPG brands such as Unilever, Mars Wrigley, Bayer, and SC Johnson, Advantage Solutions has been the go-to partner for those seeking to enhance their brand value.
Navigating the Maze: Advantage Solutions' Journey Towards Technological Consolidation.
Advantage Solutions found itself in a complex labyrinth of overlapping customer bases as a result of its numerous acquisitions. Each business unit, having its own unique technology solution, operated independent data warehouses and analytics tools. The company's approach to providing a unified view of data involved a daily ingestion of information from each data warehouse, followed by a manual transformation into a standardized data set. This data set was then disseminated through enterprise reports via the customer's preferred tool. However, this daily process was not immune to human error and fell short of meeting the customer's growing demand for near real-time insights.
As the company expanded its services to a larger number of Consumer-Packaged Goods (CPGs) across multiple business units, the volume of issues began to surge. Over a span of two years, the percentage of CPGs serviced simultaneously by multiple Advantage Solutions business units ballooned from 28% to over 80%. This growth was accompanied by an inconsistency in delivering the promised enterprise reports to the CPGs.
In an effort to mitigate the risk of service reduction and potential breach of contract lawsuits, Advantage Solutions was faced with the challenge of providing cost-effective and reliable near real-time reports. Their initial attempt to address this issue involved consolidating the business units into a single technology stack. However, after investing $6M in two internal projects that failed to deliver the desired outcome, the company decided to bring in external expertise.
A consulting firm was hired, proposing a three-year, $30M plan to streamline business processes and technology into a unified approach, aptly named "one best way".
Embracing Change: Advantage Solutions' Shift to a Unified Data Warehouse with InfoMagnus.
The $30M plan proposed by the consultants was met with skepticism, prompting IT stakeholders at Advantage Solutions to seek an alternative. They turned to InfoMagnus, who proposed a unified data warehouse as a more cost-effective solution.
The business requirements were clear-cut:
- A cost-optimized solution that would maintain or reduce operating expenses.
- Near real-time updates of source data reflected in over 120 customer reports.
- A system capable of streaming more than 10 million records daily, including files hundreds of GBs in size.
- Retirement of the aging on-premises SQL data warehouse, which was responsible for over 70% of data volume.
- Compliance with security requirements as stipulated by customer contracts and the Advantage Solutions Security Officer.
InfoMagnus, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner, took on the challenge and designed, built, deployed, and configured a new data warehouse using Snowflake. This new data warehouse, hosted in AWS, replaced multiple on-premises data warehouses, including an enterprise MSSQL database. The retirement of the MSSQL instance, which accounted for 72% of the volume, resulted in an annual savings of $94,000 on licensing.
The architecture of the new solution was as follows:
- Data was extracted from various source systems using the third-party tool, Talend.
- This data was then pushed from Talend into Amazon S3 storage.
- Using the Bulk Copy command, data was moved into the Snowflake data warehouse hosted in AWS.
Amazon S3 was chosen for its unlimited storage, timestamping capabilities, and encryption features to ensure data security. Advantage Solutions experienced improved performance and resiliency with AWS, leading to a decision to increase AWS workloads and decrease Azure consumption. The company utilized AWS Direct Connect to replicate data from the on-premises database to the AWS-hosted Snowflake. This strategy facilitated a swift data migration, shaving off a week from the project timeline.
Reaping the Rewards: The Impact of the Unified Data Warehouse on Advantage Solutions.
The introduction of the Retail Unified data warehouse brought significant value to Advantage Solutions' business intelligence, internal operations, and customer relations. The consolidation into a single data warehouse facilitated automatic data normalization and established a single source of truth. The AWS architecture underpinning the system enabled continuous updates, leading to near real-time reports and an impressive 86% improvement in performance. The business intelligence team saw a reduction in their support hours by 40% in the first year, freeing up time for new development, including the delivery of 20 enterprise customer dashboards.
The business was able to uphold customer trust by delivering comprehensive, near real-time reporting as promised. The elimination of manual processes led to an estimated annual time saving of 12,480 hours within the business team. This newfound time was redirected towards data analysis and the creation of action plans to boost customer Return on Investment (ROI). The ability to access near-real time data also had operational implications. Management gained immediate visibility into completed work, enabling real-time feedback. This led to improved compliance, a 7% increase in overall on-date execution, and a near elimination of non-billable "fix it" store visits.
But perhaps the most significant impact was on Advantage Solutions' customers. They received the promised reports, and for many, near real-time reporting across all chains and regions was a novel experience. This newfound visibility empowered smarter decisions on the use of merchandising services, leading to improved ROI. As reports were consistently delivered and outages reduced by over 80%, customer trust in Advantage Solutions grew.