As part of a digital transformation program, Surfwear business Rip Curl consolidated its data collection then transformed how it provided the analytics its executives around the country needed to run the business.

In the past managers could struggle to find the information they needed as they juggled spreadsheets. To address this, the company created a data warehouse and deployed Power BI.Microsoft’s data visualisation tool across the organisation.

Stuart Connell, Rip Curl Lead BI architect said the company use the software giant’s Azure Data factory to handle the ETL (extract, transform, load) processes required to transition from Rip Curl’s previous on premises platforms to Azure which houses the company’s data warehouse.

“We do have some tricky old 32-bit systems that don’t work within the Data Factory platform, but Microsoft always has a solution, ” he said.

“So we’ve got a virtual machine that sits inside the architecture where we use some open source Python scripts to connect to some of the more tricky infrastructure and do our ETL that way,” he says.

“That was the best decision we made – 100 percent Microsoft architecture,” says Connell, who worked closely with both Microsoft’s Rip Curl account team and Fast Track specialists.

Cloudy with a chance of lockdown

The wisdom of moving to the cloud was thrown into sharp relief during the COVID-19 lockdowns after the iconic Rip Curl Pro surfing competition at Bells Beach in Victoria was postponed in early 2020.

Now the focus is on growth supported by intelligent analytics. While the company has performed some cube-based analytics, ultimately Rip Curl wants to use Power BI to handle all its data analysis.

And the data collection available for analysis continues to grow.

Rip Curl is currently tackling data integration to its point of sale information and to retail store door counters which will give it much more granular insights about who is buying what and when.

“It’s a key part of the business that’s only going to grow over the next five to 10 years,” says Connell who is focussed on accelerating the pace at which information reaches key decision makers to drive greater efficiencies.

Transitioning back to growth

As COVID related restrictions eased and stores started opening again store managers have been able to use Power BI to get up to the minute information to help manage shops and inventory.

As the data warehouse links Rip Curl’s eCommerce system and image database, managers can even see an image of the wetsuits or T-shirts that people are buying rather than just bald SKUs and sales figures which can be harder to interpret.

That visual component allows managers to work out where to locate stock, and because wholesale and retail systems are integrated, Power BI can also generate a delivery report so that store staff can see images of what is being delivered in each box and carton.

Stuart Connell, Group BI Lead, Rip Curl

“That’s great because we have a casual workforce and people have been with the business varying lengths of time. To come into the business, pick up that screen, see what’s expected in the box and check it off, is something that I see a lot of demand for from the business,” says Connell.

Initially, around 200 people had access to Power BI but Connell says that Rip Curl has expanded its licence to cover the whole organisation, with data access on a need-to-know basis.

Connell said he leveraged Microsoft Azure out of SE Asia to ease communication and cross-pollination between the major head office locations in Hossegor, France and Southern California, USA.  “We have already completed many projects in other regions – in the one tenancy – and are in the process of rolling the solution out to end-users.”

He says that pilot projects are underway exploring how external data sets could help the business develop broader insights to optimise decision making. “How does weather impact our sales in store? How do other trends globally impact us? Are general retail sales statistics across Australia, important for Rip Curl sales or do surfers completely ignore what’s happening in the retail landscape?”

Beyond that, he can see a role for artificial intelligence for inventory automation and machine learning supported decision making to ensure that Rip Curl remains at the top of its game.

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