You can repurpose database veterans easily on Talend. It’s the same thought process, just a matter of learning how to use the tool.Mark Sanders, CIO
Wholesale distributors often have a wealth of customer data at their fingertips, but don’t have the means or know-how to use that data to improve communications, build customer relationships and increase profits. That’s where Granite Analytics comes in. This Boston-area firm offers a cloud-based service that gives distributors a rich analytics dashboard that provides actionable insights into their customer data.
For a distributor trying to sell tens of thousands of products to a variety of customers it is hard for a salesperson to communicate on a customized basis. But research has shown that sales and loyalty are driven more by insights and information than the products themselves.
Brent Johnstone founded Granite Analytics to help distributors harness and package their data so they can empower their customers – “the small “mom & pop” stores, the independent retailers you’d find on Main Street USA – with customer insight at par with what Amazon and the big box retailers have access to.”
Making the Dream a Reality
Granite is headed by Founder & CEO Johnstone and Mark Sanders, CIO. The rest of the team is virtual, and fluctuates from about 8-10 people at any given time, working primarily on a project basis. When Johnstone founded Granite, he knew what he wanted to achieve, and enlisted Sanders to find the technology to make that a reality.
Sanders was first introduced to Talend in a previous role with an e-commerce company, by a “forward-thinking BI director who searched around and found Talend.”
After viewing a number of demos from other vendors including open source solutions, Sanders and his colleagues decided these companies’ solutions were more ETL tools than anything else.
Sanders says, “A lot of these tools promise no coding, but what they are really doing is taking something that is technical and turning it into buttons and dropdowns, and it ends up just being more buttons and dropdowns. I think Talend strikes the balance really nicely in terms of stuff you can just drag off the palate and include, as well as the custom things you want to do. There are really cool things you could do with Talend that you couldn’t do with the others.”
He continues, “What’s incredible about Talend is that you can start for free. I keep telling people that Talend Open Source is the most incredible free thing I’ve seen in my entire life.”
In order to provide the level of detailed analysis and insight they wanted to give customers, Sanders and Johnstone had a decision to make.
“When we were thinking about making an enterprise purchase, we started thinking about what we need, and the open source version of Talend didn’t have all the features,” Sanders said.
From Granite’s perspective, Talend offered the most functionality and a valuable user community. “Once we engaged Talend’s sales team, we were able to upgrade at a very reasonable price, whereas some of the retail pricing on other tools were insanely high.
Johnstone was impressed by the robust Talend Open Source community: “The number of users you have communicating online, willing to help others with projects or share new ways to work with your product was huge. We saw that Talend easily has one hundred times more information out there.”
Now that they’ve implemented Talend Enterprise Data Integration (TEDI), Johnstone and Sanders have discovered more valuable features. In general, Granite gets data from ERP systems in comma delimited files, Excel files, and standard databases (using SQL server as one of the DBs) – with the goal of getting a common feed.
Johnstone said, “We have a data dictionary of how we’d like to receive the data, but one of the benefits of Talend is that we can react to a different schema really quickly, because Talend is so flexible.”
Granite uses data visualization tools in conjunction with Talend and Sanders knew that some data preparation must happen before it can go into data visualization properly. He has found that most data visualization tools that are out there aren’t as powerful yet as he was led to believe. “They just can’t consume data and spit it out fast enough. So, one of the primary uses of Talend is to do some of the data manipulation in advance, before it can go into any visualization tool.”
Talend Enterprise Data Integration’s “joblets” have impressed Sanders: “Utilization of context variables in conjunction with joblets is a powerful combo. We can repurpose the same code for different parameters. We want to offer a high level of customization, and joblets allow us to do that by seamlessly passing context variables of a job into the joblet.”
Both Johnstone and Sanders are very pleased with the final solution, now a fully functional product, deployed on a private cloud, and ready to release to clients. The solution gives distributors a dashboard with insights they have never had before: trends, brands, product categories, specific product data, purchasing patterns – which distributors can communicate to their customers.
Knowing it’s easy to scale up, Sanders anticipates taking advantage of some additional features in the suite, including job scheduling, admin, code capture tool, subversion, and retract code.
Sanders had a pleasant surprise when he saw how Talend makes it easy to “take someone with development and database skills and turn them back into a developer. I’m not a Java guy or a web developer, but with Talend you have incredible power at your fingertips. With Talend I could build equivalents of applications I built back in the day on the mainframe.” Sanders is a fan of Talend’s joblet feature, which he finds very similar to a “PROC” in mainframe development. “You can repurpose database veterans easily on Talend. It’s the same thought process, just a matter of learning how to use the tool.”
Granite is actively demoing their solution and is in deep discussions with distributors. Johnstone and Sanders are excited to bring new insight to an industry that has been mired in generic order taking and reactive sales practices – not a very successful way to compete with big box retailers and online retail giants. Armed with insights from distributors, retailers are empowered to make better decisions during their purchasing process. It’s a win-win for all parties involved, promoting better collaboration and more valuable interactions across the sales cycle – from distributors, retailers, on to the consumers.
 *CEB survey of almost 5,000 customers (http://www.cebglobal.com)