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SPI Marine Improves Data Literacy through Search-Driven Analytics

With the help of CSG, SPI Marine extended their QuickBase core ERP system to automate their internal contract performance reporting.

SPI Marine Gets Agile

SPI Marine is an independent service provider of shipbroking, agency, logistics, and consultancy services. SPI Marine handles a multimillion-ton cargo portfolio annually, with a dedicated team focusing on the entire petrochemical and edible oils supply chain. From a highly complex chemical derivative through to simpler grades of biofuels, SPI’s team of global experts helps their clients achieve their supply chain goals. Their global office network and depth of intelligence are unrivaled, with a proven track record that offers successful data-driven strategies to customers.

Meeting Ship Brokers’ BI Needs

SPI Marine values data and the nimbleness of low code platforms to differentiate themselves in the shipbroking industry. As business scaled, their core QuickBase system did not have the business intelligence capabilities necessary for serving the needs of their customers. Ship brokers need to make quick decisions with real-time data latency, and ad hoc reporting from their central system is complicated. Shipping logistics data is intrinsically complex, especially in their core chemical tanker market, and requires several permutations for simple business questions.

SPI ship brokers heavily relied on their BI team to serve contract performance on ship voyages because they did not have the training or time necessary for investigating their core system. Providing contract performance was a manual reporting task that was extremely time-consuming. Each voyage for a single ship has multiple parcels with different products, visits multiple ports, and takes part in berth activities—sometimes for loading and other times for discharge. This is a data model’s worst nightmare.

Microsoft Power BI and Azure: From Data to Insights

With the help of a Gold competency member of the Microsoft Partner Network, CSG, SPI Marine extended their QuickBase core ERP system to automate their internal contract performance reporting. CSG is a boutique Microsoft business intelligence consultancy specializing in embedded analytics and managed BI services. Their combination of Agile methods, data modeling prowess, and Power BI expertise allowed them to translate SPI Marine’s vision to reality without requiring a massive budget.

The solution architecture uses Azure Data Factory to make nightly pulls of their QuickBase ERP data into an Azure database. To improve performance, tables within the Azure database were optimized for analytics, providing easy ingestion by Power BI. A certified dataset was built into Power BI as the single source of truth for contract performance reporting. Row-level security was built into the dataset data model for ship brokers to see only the data that mattered to them.

Diagram: Solution architecture. For a larger version, click the image

SPI Marine took their solution one step further through a Power BI Embedded portal named “The Vault.” This Power BI Embedded portal provides a simple report viewing experience for their ship brokers who do not hold Power BI Pro licenses. This solution helped save licensing costs and segment the ship brokers that are interested in building ad hoc reports and those that are not.

Image 1 – Fictitious data; for a larger version, click the image

Search-Driven Analytics

When SPI Marine was introduced to the AI capabilities of Power BI, the Q&A visual immediately caught their attention. Providing a “Google search” experience to their internal ship brokers is the perfect solution to address low data literacy and the need for fast response times with granular business questions.

Image 2 – Fictitious data; for a larger version, click the image

SPI ship brokers now have the self-service ability to find answers to key questions about voyages. Most importantly, they can benchmark this data to industry averages.

For example:

– What is the average waiting time for a specific port based on time of year?


– What is the average waiting time for a specific location based on berth?


– What is the average loading pump rate for different commodities based on the capacity of different berth locations?

Image 3 – Fictitious data; for a larger version, click the image

“Working alongside Microsoft and CSG, we were able to leverage cloud-based solutions, simple ETL tools, advanced business analytics, and now machine learning. In the end, it’s about answering questions with data and delivering those answers in a simple, digestible, and timely method—with the Microsoft business intelligence platform, our dream became our reality. ”

Improving Data Literacy of Every Consumer

SPI Marine ship brokers have the self-service ability to instantly find answers to questions about their voyages with The Vault. The Vault provides prescriptive analytics that are valuable during client spot and contract negotiations, empowering ship brokers to make decisions that will affect the cost and time of their client’s voyage well before it has been executed.

Power BI gives SPI Marine ship brokers essential information on average waiting times and pump rates for specific port berths and terminals. For example, a ship broker can determine how much volume of a particular product has been shipped from location A to location B in seconds, then slice and dice the data based on all variables of the voyage. Power BI adoption has skyrocketed—given the simplicity of interacting with their data and building ad hoc reports from a certified dataset to promote citizen BI developers.

Next Steps

The rapid adoption and success of The Vault with internal ship brokers has prompted SPI Marine to consider productizing the solution. SPI Marine is currently enhancing The Vault to enable external access by clients. Offering self-service analytics to clients with the ease of Q&A is a ground-breaking concept for the shipbroking industry and brings transparency to their contract negotiations. Ultimately, The Vault will be a hub for ship brokers and clients to fuse data, intelligence, and advance communication across the industry.

This case study was originally published by Microsoft.

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