It’s a quiet lane, just off Kolkata’s busy Ballygunge Circular Road, and the working day’s just got underway at Eveready’s corporate office. It’s getting to 9:30 in the morning, and there’s a calmness about the office; as employees walk in, they stop to have a silent moment with a large idol of Lord Balaji in the reception. There’s something restful in the air.

But the quiet belies big changes taking place within the 109-year-old company that’s synonymous with batteries.

As the battery-market gets more crowded, often by Chinese goods, Eveready’s already driven a plan to diversify into lighting products. According to media reports, batteries bring in about 60 percent of Eveready’s business today, a figure Eveready’s expects will fall to 45 percent, as the lighting business picks up.

The shift’s getting traction: Today, a Google search of Eveready doesn’t throw up pictures of batteries–but of lighting products.

That’s not the only area change is taking place at Eveready. At the end of a long hall, on the first floor of its corporate headquarters, Eveready’s IT department is using a new tool to drive growth and efficiency: Visual analytics.

Visual Analytics Powers Crores in Sales

Visual analytics is fairly new at Eveready. Its first tryst with the technology started in May 2014, when the company’s IT department, led by CIO Arup Choudhury, used Tableau to give the business the ability to get to more insights–faster.

One of the first uses of visual analytics was, predictably, sales. Choudhury says they used Tableau to find out which of the company’s 3,000-plus distributors hadn’t made a recent purchase, or was buying below a threshold amount. That’s data’s made it easier for sales staff to figure out which customers they should work more closely with.

That was only the beginning. Applying visual analytics to more sales data, says Choudhury, began to unearth insights Eveready would never have probably got to using regular, non-visual analytics. “A whole host of new insights started appearing. Insights that were hidden under layers and layers of data suddenly become visible, right in front of our eyes,” remembers Choudhury.

One of these insights included a list of customers (distributors) that weren’t buying at least three of Eveready’s seven product categories. Eveready makes more than batteries, it has interests in tea, lights, and power banks, among others.

“As a thumb rule, we want our customers to buy at least three product categories. So we looked (with Tableau) for customers who were not. Now, that’s very difficult to do using a tabular (non-visual) format,” says Choudhury.

It’s also the sort of insight that will go a long way in driving the company’s product diversification goals.

Another example of insights that are hard to come by using non-visual analytics is around product affinity in the secondary market, says Choudhury. (The secondary market is at the retail level, the primary market is distributors). “We can find out, for instance, what is selling in the Gariahat Market (a market in Kolkata), and what’s selling well with it. That allows us to plan bundles and promotions better,” he says.

All those now-visible insights have raked in more sales. “From my estimate, the tool has helped us drive increased sales of between Rs 15-20 crore,” says Choudhury–and that’s only from the first seven months of the project.

Why Use Visual Analytics, What it Costs, and Skill Requirements

What does visual analytics bring to the table that regular old analytics doesn’t? Eveready’s example is a case in point.

This isn’t Eveready first bout with analytics. Eveready implemented transaction and analytical systems back in 2005. Data from its ERP, supply chain and sales force systems were fed into a data warehouse, and various reports were generated at different frequencies.

But at the start of 2014, Eveready realized it need more. It decided to invest in visual analytics because “it was very difficult to generate insights, and take important decisions, from tabular data. We felt that if we could display this data visually, it would help everyone because more meaningful insights could be had,” says Choudhury.

Visual analytics not only opens up insights that are almost impossible to achieve using tabular format analytics, it also speeds up analysis–and decision making. At Eveready, visual analytics has made it so much easier to digest data that the company produces 50 percent more dashboards today, than it did before, which ensures its executives are that much more engaged with the business.

The IT department decided to use Tableau after scanning visual analytics players in the market and shortlisting on three, including Tableau, and SAS. It then used the one-month free version of each, worked with each vendor’s representatives, before finalizing on Tableau.

“We decided on Tableau because it was very easy to use and because it is interactive. And also because it fit well into our warehouse,” says Choudhury, pointing out some of the parameters that other CIOs might want to keep in mind when they want to invest in visual analytics.

The cost of using Tableau, says Choudhury–including the licenses, servers and storage–works up to about Rs 1.2 crore. Tableau has a simple license mechanism, says Choudhury. You need one set of desktop licenses (which are used by the IT department to develop the dashboards, which are then published to a server) and another set of licenses for the server (which are used by business folk to interact with the dashboards).

Users, says Choudhury, cannot touch the underlying data.

How easy it is to use Tableau’s visual analytics? Although, one of Tableau’s selling points is that it’s easy to use companies can liberate data and let anyone look for insights,Choudhury says it still requires a certain amount of programming and an understanding of statistics to create the dashboards. Once the dashboards are made, users can interact with them.

This is why, Choudhury says, IT folk within Eveready create dashboards. It’s an important lesson for other CIOs who hope to be able to get a visual analytics tool that gives users free rein.

That said, all it took his department was a single day of classroom training with Tableau at the Eveready office, combined with online tutorials on the Tableau website, before they could start work. It helps that Choudhury has a background in statistics.

Visual Analytics Drives Supply Chain Efficiency

Choudhury says that of all the use cases of visual analytics at Eveready, it’s had the most impact on the supply chain.

“Look, at say, inventory holding. Using the tool, we found that we were holding Rs 200 crore of finished goods inventory. That raised a red flag and drove us to re-look inventory norms. We looked at places where inventory holding was greater than the norm, and we corrected it. There, itself, we saved Rs 10 crores in six months,” says Choudhury.

It’s not like this insight couldn’t have been got using a tabular format, “but it would have taken a lot longer. Today if I do a distribution, a simple linear distribution of inventory versus norms, I can find out in which areas it is higher than the norm and where it is lower,” he says.

Visual analytics also helped create better controls over raw material inventory. At Eveready, an important raw material is acetylene black, which needs to be imported and therefore requires lead time. The amount that needs to be imported and the frequency of import should be depend on how much existing stock there is. And that’s a challenge.

Using analytics in a tabular format made it extremely time-consuming for someone sitting at HQ to find out the company’s acetylene black inventory levels from across the country. “Using Tableau, they can quickly find out, by plant, how much inventory there is. And that extremely helpful information,” says Choudhury.

That ensures that that Eveready isn’t buying raw materials because it wants to be sure it doesn’t run out. “Frequent analysis could tell you when to defer or even cancel orders,” says Choudhury.

Today, with dashboards created for the sales and supply chain departments, the IT team has moved its focus to operations. They are looking for insights in areas like distribution-plan-versus-actual-dispatch, incidents of stock outs, the preventive maintenance schedule versus machine downtime. Once, that’s done, they will move to finance.

What’s important to note, however, is that at the seven-month mark of the project, having covered only sales and the supply chain, project RoI has already hit an amazing 526 percent.

You don’t need visual analytics to see the benefit in that.