Trees are one of the world’s greatest natural resources. They reduce carbon dioxide to help prevent global warming and they can be used as building materials for so many different applications. Houses, furniture, support structures and scaffolding: there is likely something built using timber near you that you don’t even think about.
Culturally, trees have a significant appeal as well, as far back as written human society can recall. From passages in The Bible and transcripts of the ancient Egyptians to 20th century book references like J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of The Rings trilogy character Treebeard.
One of the cultural staples of Japanese architecture is the wooden house and the Sumitomo Forestry Group has been involved in the forestry business for over 320 years since its foundation in 1691. More specifically, Sumitomo Forestry Co., Ltd. is one of Japan’s leading timber and building materials trading companies with a steadily growing custom-built detached wooden housing business.
The company’s housing business sells about 9,000 custom-built detached wooden houses per year and each one yields housing specification data. The customized equipment for the kitchen and bathrooms, the construction materials for all columns and beams, maintenance history and much more gets recorded and filed. With thousands of homes being built annually, this means Sumitomo Forestry Co., Ltd. needs to maintain a data set in the hundreds of millions.
The company built a database to house all of this valuable information. Unfortunately, it required each department to request a search to process the data on an ad hoc basis anytime the user department, materials department, or quality assurance department needed access. This data extraction process became onerous both in time and costs.
To make matters more challenging, as the data growth continued to escalate, the data retrieval tool was unable to keep pace and could not search the full data set. Detailed data searches were very difficult in the time it would take each department to cull the results into meaningful insights. These growing limitations meant Sumitomo Forestry Co., Ltd. would need to completely change the way data was processed.
In December of 2014, QlikView was implemented by the user department and it completely changed the data culture:
- Housing specification data which previously took many days to obtain via the previous data retrieval tool was now available immediately through a QlikView dashboard.
- There is no longer a data limit like there was with the prior data searches. All of Sumitomo Forestry Co., Ltd.’s data is available at the same time and it can be indexed quickly.
- Access to additional detail is now possible: the ability to drill down into each residence allows departments who access the QlikView app to determine insights more accurately.
- It no longer requires multiple tools in order to find one data point. Previously departments were pairing database searches with other data housed in Microsoft Excel and Access.
- The concerns of data growth overwhelming the previous system has been eliminated.
What’s also critical to Sumitomo Forestry Co., Ltd.’s success is for multiple departments to work together and learn from each other’s data. Currently, seven different departments within the organization all use Qlik in order to track building materials, CAD (computer-aided design) data, ordering history, repair history and more. This more detailed view of their data has also led to improvements in field support and other support services since the organization can now keep closer tabs on orders and customer service requests.
Based on this empirical evidence: perhaps data is the next great natural resource.
Photo credit: Nicholas_T via Foter.com / CC BY