Rexel UK puts business intelligence in motion

Supporting its “Energy in Motion” strategy for more customer-centric services

Published on 25-Jun-2013

"We are in business intelligence heaven right now – the company loves IBM Cognos and the users really appreciate the fact that the business intelligence team is out there talking to them face-to-face." - Simon Short, Head of Business Intelligence, Rexel

Rexel UK

Wholesale Distribution & Services

Deployment country:
United Kingdom

BA - Business Analytics, Business Integration, BA - Business Intelligence, Business Performance Transformation, Learning and Training, BA - Performance Management, Transforming Business, Workload Management

IBM Business Partner:


Rexel UK is a business-to-business distributor of electrical industrial supplies. A division of the Rexel Group, the company employs more than 5,000 people and reports annual revenues of approximately £1 billion.

Business need:
Rexel, a global organisation with turnover of €13.4bn, is focusing on its “Energy In Motion” strategy. To align with this strategy, Rexel UK needed deeper insight into trades made by its network of 400+ branches.

Together with IBM® Business Partner EnterpriseBI, Rexel has rebuilt its IBM Cognos® Business Intelligence platform from the ground up, developing an agile environment that is closely aligned with user needs.

Rexel can now access highly meaningful, on-time information in a format that is easy to understand, helping accelerate business insight and support better decision-making.

Case Study

Rexel UK is a business-to-business distributor of electrical industrial supplies. A division of the Rexel Group, the company employs more than 5,000 people and reports annual revenues of approximately £1 billion.

To fuel future growth and profitability, Rexel has adopted a new strategy known as “Energy in Motion”, which aims to put the customer at the centre of its operations and create greater value for all its stakeholders: customers, suppliers, employees and investors. To support this strategy by providing decision-makers with deep, accurate and timely operational insight, the company needed to transform its approach to business analytics.

Rexel markets and sells products through a number of leading electrical distribution brands, including Denmans, Newey & Eyre, Parker Merchanting, WF Senate, and Wilts. Keeping tight control over this extensive brand network is crucial to ensuring Rexel’s continued market success. With thousands of product varieties and hundreds of branches under its distribution umbrella, the company needs clear insight into all aspects of operations and performance to maintain strong profit margins and ensure fast, consistent service delivery to customers.

Breaking bad business intelligence habits
In an effort to gain a better view of activity across its business and support more informed decision-making, Rexel worked to implement a suite of IBM Cognos Business Intelligence solutions several years ago. However, even after the solution had been in operation for some time, the company still found itself struggling to realise the full benefits of the IBM software.

Through consultation with key businesses users, it was considered essential for the scope of the business intelligence solution to widen considerably. Rexel brought on Simon Short as the new Head of Business Intelligence to help turn the situation around. He explains:

“Setting up a business intelligence system can be deceptively easy, and many companies stumble because they underestimate the amount of time and effort that needs to go into building a really robust environment.

“We established that a full consultation with the business hadn’t been completed prior to deployment of the business intelligence solution at that time. Key to this was the omission of a central, strategic approach with best practice at its heart. This had resulted in considerable replication of functional reporting, which was expensive to manage and didn’t truly deliver what the business required.”

Securing high-level support
Faced with these hurdles, Short and his team decided to completely rebuild Rexel’s IBM Cognos environment and start afresh, taking a more agile approach to business intelligence that was more closely aligned with the company’s needs.

“Once we had put together a strategy, we spent a lot of time going over the proposed roadmap with the Rexel vice-president and board of directors, making sure that they supported our plans,” says Simon Short. “We came up with several proofs-of-concept that showed the board the quality of information that they could be getting with the right use of business intelligence, which really got their attention. It was essential for us to get that high-level buy-in before starting the project in earnest.”

Extensive requirements analysis
Short and his team have taken an iterative, agile approach to restructuring Rexel’s Cognos environment, staying in constant conversation with users at every stage. As a first step, the team worked to determine Rexel’s level of readiness when it came to business intelligence, assessing how much users knew about the Cognos solution. They then carried out an exhaustive requirements survey to learn more about who was using the solution and how they were interacting with it, in order to build a better picture of what the company really wanted from business intelligence.

“The requirements analysis showed us that there was a huge disconnect between business intelligence and users,” notes Simon Short. “We needed to bring business intelligence out of the IT function and really embed it in the business, so that we could give users exactly what they needed.

“Previously, the business was not exploiting the full capability of Cognos – they were often just using it to extract data so that they could put it into spreadsheets. There was a lot of data gathering and data management going on, but no real intelligence was being extracted from the information. We needed to go way above and beyond this, and use all the tools within Cognos to get users working more proactively and making decisions based on better, more meaningful reports.”

Training and skills development
To help the business intelligence team to build up their Cognos skills, and learn the advanced techniques needed to get the most out of the solution, Short organised numerous training sessions, workshops and proof-of-concept exercises.

“The goal was to make sure that the business intelligence team understood all of the ins and outs of Cognos,” explains Short. “I now have a very skilled team – probably the best I’ve ever had – that’s familiar with the solution and gets out into the business, interacting with users on a daily basis to make sure that they are getting the information they need.”

With the business intelligence team in place, a business virtual team was created to provide advanced expertise within the business units, while retaining control in the centre.

Paul Parker, CIO of Rexel Northern Europe adds: “Co-ordinating ad hoc development in this way is very efficient: it ensures that numbers can be trusted and that duplication of effort is minimised. Business users will never be as skilled as our business intelligence specialists, but it is important to provide some freedom of access.”

Building the data foundation for business intelligence
To provide a solid foundation for reporting and analysis, the business intelligence team used IBM Cognos Data Manager to build a data warehouse with Rexel’s business requirements in mind.

“With Cognos Data Manager we have a much better framework for ETL [Extract, Transform and Load] operations,” states Simon Short. “In the past, it took 14 hours to perform ETL processes for just one of our brands. Using Data Manager and improved techniques, we can complete ETL for all brands in six and a half hours. As a result, information is more readily available than it’s ever been, and can be delivered to the business on time, so that users can make smarter, faster decisions based on up-to-the-minute data.”

Taking reporting to new levels
Rexel has made huge steps in transforming its reporting processes. The company has been able to trim the number of reports on Cognos down from more than 3,000 to a manageable 300 – a reduction of 90 percent.

“Before, users were being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of reports on the system and just didn’t have time to take in all the information,” remarks Simon Short. “There was one branch manager, for example, who had about 30 reports in his inbox every morning and had to come in at 5:30 every morning to read them all.

“We decided to create a dashboard that gave our branch managers an at-a-glance view of eight key elements of branch performance, and designed it so that it would take no more than three clicks to get to the information they needed. We’ve subsequently developed similar dashboards for regional managers, which have been met with huge success.

“Now it’s quick and easy for users to drill down to the relevant areas and get the information they need. Instead of spending hours in front of a screen, they’re in and out of Cognos in minutes, and spending more time doing what they’re paid to, which is selling products and interacting with customers on the shop floor.”

On-going collaboration with EnterpriseBI
Solid support from IBM Business Partner EnterpriseBI has helped Rexel throughout its journey to better business intelligence, and today forms an integral part of the company’s competence centre.

“I personally have been working with EnterpriseBI for a long time, and together we have developed a real partnership and best practice framework for business intelligence over the years,” notes Simon Short. “It can be hard to find skilled technical people with deep knowledge of business intelligence – EnterpriseBI has a huge amount of that experience, and works closely with us to ensure that our Cognos platform remains finely tuned. They really help to bridge that gap between IT and business intelligence, and we run a much more agile environment because of it.”

Better support for the future
With an optimised business intelligence platform, designed with business requirements in mind, and a newly skilled team of Cognos experts, Rexel now has the tools it needs to better understand its business performance and keep up with the fast pace of the wholesale market.

Simon Short concludes: “We are in business intelligence heaven right now – the company loves IBM Cognos and the users really appreciate the fact that the business intelligence team is out there talking to them face-to-face. It has taken a lot of time and effort to get to where we are today, but it’s important to recognise that business intelligence isn’t just a one-off project, it’s a journey. We will continue to fine-tune and develop our environment so that Rexel can extract even better value out of business intelligence in the years to come.”

About EnterpriseBI
An expert in data warehousing and IBM Cognos performance management solutions, EnterpriseBI provides total support for its clients’ performance management projects. With over 10 years’ experience of building data warehouses and implementing IBM Cognos performance management tools, EnterpriseBI can ensure that your performance management project is implemented quickly and effectively.

To learn more about products, services and solutions from EnterpriseBI please visit

About IBM Business Analytics
IBM Business Analytics software delivers data-driven insights that help organisations work smarter and outperform their peers. This comprehensive portfolio includes solutions for business intelligence, predictive analytics and decision management, performance management, and risk management.

Business Analytics solutions enable companies to identify and visualise trends and patterns in areas, such as customer analytics, that can have a profound effect on business performance. They can compare scenarios, anticipate potential threats and opportunities, better plan, budget and forecast resources, balance risks against expected returns and work to meet regulatory requirements. By making analytics widely available, organisations can align tactical and strategic decision-making to achieve business goals.

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Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

Cognos TM1, Cognos Business Intelligence, Cognos Data Manager

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2013. IBM United Kingdom Limited, PO Box 41, North Harbour, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO6 3AU. Produced in the United Kingdom. June 2013. IBM, the IBM logo,, Cognos and TM1 are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at “Copyright and trademark information” at IBM and EnterpriseBI are separate companies and each is responsible for its own products. Neither IBM nor EnterpriseBI makes any warranties, express or implied, concerning the other’s products. This document is current as of the initial date of publication and may be changed by IBM at any time. Not all offerings are available in every country in which IBM operates. The client examples cited are presented for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance results may vary depending on specific configurations and operating conditions. THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF NON-INFRINGEMENT. IBM products are warranted according to the terms and conditions of the agreements under which they are provided.