NIBCO switches to faster insight to capture market trends

Understanding sales, operational and financial data helps seize new business opportunities

Published on 08-Aug-2013

"We put a very strong focus on making shrewd IT investments, and we believe that our core technology platform offers us a solid basis for driving better business performance. We are confident that IBM and SAP will continue to deliver the cost-effective, intelligent solutions that will allow us to guarantee exceptional business results." - Gary Wilson, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, NIBCO INC.


Industrial Products

Deployment country:
United States

Business Resiliency, Data Warehouse, Enabling Business Flexibility, Energy Efficiency, Enterprise Content Management, Enterprise Resource Planning, Information Management Foundation, Server Consolidation, Virtualization, Virtualization - Server

IBM Business Partner:


NIBCO INC. manufactures plumbing valves, fittings and flow control solutions for commercial, industrial and institutional construction, and for the residential and irrigation markets. Headquartered in Elkhart, Indiana, the company operates ten manufacturing plants in the United States, Mexico and Poland, and employs more than 2,000 people.

Business need:
Without fast insight into sales data, NIBCO lacked the ability to spot trends. The company risked losing valuable new business opportunities, or manufacturing low demand products.

To accelerate business insight, NIBCO implemented the SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator, based on IBM® BladeCenter® HS22 servers, analyzing 3 TB of operational data in near-real-time.

Order queries that took over 17 minutes to answer now take around one minute, a 92 percent improvement, helping the company identify trends and direct manufacturing to the most profitable products.

Case Study

The sheer scale of a global business can mean that responding to market changes can be slow and ponderous. How can you ensure that worldwide sales data, containing precious insight, is captured, analyzed and understood?

At NIBCO, managers fully understood the potential value of its information, but the existing systems struggled to generate meaningful reports fast enough, and the company risked missing out on new business opportunities.

NIBCO implemented high-speed business analytics, based on SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator (SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator), running on IBM BladeCenter HS22 servers. The result is that NIBCO – even though this is a global corporation – is able to understand its business better and respond to market opportunities much faster.

Maintaining market leadership
NIBCO INC. manufactures plumbing valves, fittings and flow control solutions for commercial, industrial and institutional construction, and for the residential and irrigation markets. Headquartered in Elkhart, Indiana, the company operates ten manufacturing plants in the United States, Mexico and Poland, and employs more than 2,000 people.

As the ongoing volatility of global economic events presents new challenges for manufacturers, NIBCO places a strong focus on continuous innovation and improvement in order to maintain its leadership position in the industry.

Gary Wilson, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of NIBCO INC., elaborates: “The economic downturn over the past few years has really made us take a hard look at the business, and readjust our ways of working. By cutting costs and tightening up budgets we have been able to weather the difficulties, but there is still a lot of uncertainty in the wider economy. So we are always looking for ways to get even leaner and keep efficiencies embedded.”

“We also recognize that these kind of operational improvements are only one part of the bigger picture when it comes to remaining successful in tough economic times. This is why, more recently, there has been a greater push for not only running the business more efficiently, but also more intelligently.

“We want to ensure that we are making smart decisions and to do that we need solid information on all facets of our business. For instance, we need to know where the demand for products is coming from, how well certain products are performing, and the impact of potential orders on manufacturing schedules. With this kind of insight, we can spot trends early on, design more desirable products and fine-tune production.”

Running the business on SAP
NIBCO has been taking advantage of integrated SAP ERP applications to optimize its operations for more than fifteen years. The company runs every aspect of its business on SAP ERP solutions, from warehouse management and production planning right through to product pricing and financial management.

“When we introduced SAP solutions we overhauled our entire operational structure,” says Gary Wilson. “SAP software has been a key enabler to integrate and automate many processes, and it has played a huge role to help us grow the business in a more efficient and profitable way.”

SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) acts as the central data warehouse for the huge volumes of information generated by NIBCO’s SAP ERP applications. The company uses SAP NetWeaver BW to provide a centralized platform for storing, consolidating and analyzing approximately 3 TB of data, which is growing at a rate of 30 percent each year. A significant portion of these data volumes consist of historical information, dating as far back as 1998.

“SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse is an invaluable part of our business,” comments Gary Wilson. “It helps us to take enormous quantities of data and turn it into relevant insight that can be used to drive smarter business decisions and actions.”

Fast, accurate insight into its business to help spot trends early on, enables NIBCO to design more desirable products and fine-tune production. Demand for this data was outstripping the ability to supply timely information, and existing systems were no longer able to produce reports and analysis within acceptable timescales. The situation was impeding the company’s drive to improve operational insight and, in the longer term, potentially blunting its competitive edge.

Faster operational insight
To solve its information challenge, NIBCO implemented the SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator, running on an IBM BladeCenter H chassis equipped with IBM BladeCenter HS22 servers.

“Speed is very important to us – our users expect information at the touch of a button, and we cannot afford to be held back by slow performance,” explains Gary Wilson. “We have seen tremendous performance improvements: in the past, it simply took too long to run certain analyses or reports, but with the SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator we are gaining fast insight into areas that we could not reach before.”

The IBM Systems Solution for SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator is designed to extend the SAP NetWeaver BW solution by delivering query processing up to 200 times faster than traditional approaches. The preconfigured solution offers reduced administration costs and a scalable architecture that grows with almost linear performance increases as the workload increases.

The SAP NetWeaver BW solution is delivered on IBM BladeCenter HS22 blade servers powered by Intel® Xeon® 5600 series processors, each featuring up to six processor cores. The processors automatically regulate power consumption and intelligently adjust server performance according to application needs. The 5600 series processors deliver up to 15 times the performance per server when compared with typical two-socket single-core servers, enabling significant server consolidation, with up to 95 percent lower energy costs, and an estimated return on investment in as little as five months.

With the IBM Systems solution for SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator in place, users spend significantly less time on data analysis tasks. The rapid insight enables users to explore the data more deeply, and uncover new insights that would not have been available before. In the time released from data management, users now have more time to plan their business actions, based on the new information. In turn, with more timely and detailed information, NIBCO can be more competitive and proactive.

Gary Wilson adds: “On average, we have been able to reduce the time taken to run reporting queries by more than 85 percent. For example, it previously took us more than 17 minutes to drill down into a single customer’s historical orders. With SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator we can do this in just over a minute, which is an improvement of 92 percent. This kind of agility allows NIBCO to gain a much deeper understanding of our own performance, so we can run the business more productively and profitably.”

Core business excellence
To support optimum performance for its extensive SAP ERP application environment, NIBCO hosts its SAP ERP applications on high-performance IBM Power® 750 servers, with IBM POWER7® processors running the IBM AIX® operating system and virtualized with IBM PowerVM®.

“The combination of IBM Power Systems™ and AIX has proved to be a winning one for us over the years,” remarks Gary Wilson. “We believe that the platform is much easier to manage, and is more reliable and flexible than any other environment. IBM gives us top reliability and performance in a very cost-effective and easy-to-manage solution; it really is the full package.”

The company hosts some 100 virtual servers on its Power Systems platform, using IBM PowerVM to provide a secure and scalable server virtualization environment for AIX. The virtualization approach has allowed NIBCO to sustain considerable growth in its SAP ERP environment over the years, allowing the company to create new virtual servers to meet business requests, and add appropriate processor resources on an incremental basis to meet workload demands.

“Our history with IBM goes right back to when we originally implemented SAP ERP,” notes Gary Wilson. “We have gone through many refreshes of our hardware systems, and have seen tremendous growth over the years. IBM technology has played a huge role in helping us to manage that growth effectively.

“When we first started out with SAP, we had nine environments, each hosted on a single physical server. Today, the number of SAP environments has increased to more than 60. Even as our SAP systems have grown in size and complexity, we have been able to keep operational expense and effort low thanks to virtualization. Our staff levels and physical server count have remained relatively uniform: with IBM PowerVM we can do so much more with fewer resources, helping us to run a very lean, efficient IT operation.”

Rock-solid storage
To complement its server environment, NIBCO is using the IBM XIV® Storage System as its strategic data storage platform. The solution offers exceptional reliability and performance, helping to provide a secure foundation for the company’s critical SAP application data.

“We saw a significant price-performance improvement when we made the move to IBM XIV, and have been very pleased with the solution; it has brought a whole new level of performance and resilience to our storage environment,” states Gary Wilson.

Improving process efficiency
To drive greater efficiency in its storage infrastructure, NIBCO uses a suite of IBM Tivoli® Storage Manager software to provide enhanced data backup, restore and archive capabilities. To protect vital SAP workloads, the company relies on Tivoli Storage Manager for Enterprise Resource Planning, which provides effective, automated data protection. Tivoli Storage Manager for Virtual Environments protects VMware vSphere virtual machines by offloading backup workloads to a centralized server and enabling near-instant recovery. Finally, Tivoli Storage Manager for Mail enables the company to manage backup and recovery of its Microsoft Exchange environment.

Similarly, IBM Content Collector for SAP Applications helps NIBCO to improve process efficiency and user productivity by providing flexible archiving and content management for SAP data. Content Collector provides a complete archiving solution for documents and information, allowing the company to drive significant cost and risk reductions by reducing unnecessary data and content.

SAP HANA on the horizon
To bring its analytics capabilities to the next level, NIBCO is currently considering a move to SAP HANA – the next wave of SAP in-memory computing technology.

“SAP HANA is definitely on our planning horizon – implementing the solution will be a matter of when the timing is right,” says Gary Wilson. “Introducing SAP HANA will be a significant change, so we are still evaluating the technology and planning our roadmap. As a company, we are strong proponents of high speed, in-memory analytics and believe that SAP HANA would be a logical next step in our business intelligence journey. Based on our experience of the deep integration between our IBM and SAP systems, IBM would be a strong potential technology partner for a future SAP HANA environment.”

Running a better business
By maintaining a strong focus on driving continuous improvements to its processes and ways of working, NIBCO has succeeded in building a highly efficient and agile business, where service excellence is a top priority.

Between 2008 and 2012, the company boosted its on-time order completion rate – that is, the number of complete orders that have been shipped on or before the deadline given to customers – from 89.2 percent to 97.6 percent, helping to improve customer satisfaction and encourage repeat business.

Employee productivity – calculated by subtracting outside purchases of materials and services from revenue – has also increased by 29 percent per employee during the same period. With IBM and SAP solutions supporting more effective operations, NIBCO is set to continue on this path towards even greater business success.

Gary Wilson concludes: “We have come a long way since we first started with IBM and SAP, and have built up a very efficient and flexible business based on reliable, high-performing IT systems. We put a very strong focus on making shrewd IT investments, and we believe that our core technology platform offers us a solid basis for driving better business performance. We are confident that IBM and SAP will continue to deliver the cost-effective, intelligent solutions that will allow us to guarantee exceptional business results.”

Products and services used

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

BladeCenter, BladeCenter HS22, Power 750, Storage, Storage: XIV

AIX, Tivoli Storage Manager, Content Collector for SAP Applications

Operating system:

IBM-SAP Alliance

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