Howdens Joinery transforms data capabilities with SAP BW on SAP HANA

Howdens is a £3bn FTSE 250 company and is the leading supplier of kitchens in the UK, where it sells to trade customers from over 600 depots. It also has a small operation in continental Europe.

The business challenge

Howdens has grown continuously since it started in 1995. It has a turnover of over £1.1bn p.a., and sees significant growth opportunities in the UK. Whilst reviewing the potential challenges of these opportunities, Howdens identified that its overnight batch processing window would come under increasing pressure as it continued to grow.

This could potentially hamper the company’s ability to run its operations effectively, analyse business performance, and understand where improvements could be made. It was an issue that would only intensify as Howdens continued to pursue its growth ambitions.

“We anticipated future problems giving managers the information needed to run depots and meet sales and margin targets. We needed a more performant data extraction, transformation and loading capability.”  Trevor Cowan, Group BI Systems Manager, Howdens Joinery

The solution

Bluefin Solutions recommended SAP HANA. A Proof-of-Concept (PoC) was developed to demonstrate the power of the solution and show how it would significantly boost the performance of Howdens’ system. For some reports, database access time could be reduced by 97%, with almost 90 hours of processing reduced to just two hours – something that could only be achieved with SAP HANA. 

“Bluefin Solutions showed us that SAP HANA could be a game-changer for Howdens. The Proof-of-Concept convinced us that it was the right solution for us, and could deliver upon its promises.” Trevor Cowan, Group BI Systems Manager, Howdens Joinery


However, implementing SAP HANA at Howdens came with particular challenges. Unlike most organisations, SAP BW is crucial to the day-to-day running of the business and is one of Howdens most important systems. This meant that the implementation could not, in any way, interrupt business-as- usual processes, had to be as risk-free as possible, and achieved with minimum downtime.

“The installation absolutely couldn’t disrupt our daily business in any way, and it had to go live without a hitch.” Trevor Cowan, Group BI Systems Manager, Howdens Joinery

To meet these challenges, Bluefin Solutions created a parallel version of the SAP Business Warehouse (BW) system on which Howdens’ data was stored – then migrated this onto SAP HANA. This prevented the existing system from having to be switched off at any point.

In addition, Howdens opted for SAP HANA to be configured with high availability and disaster recovery options.

The importance of the system also meant that an increased level of testing was required to ensure absolute faith in the results. While this level of testing would typically result in an extended project timeline, the approach Bluefin designed and executed enabled Howden’s to perform extensive testing within the timescale allocated.  

The business benefits

The impact of SAP HANA on Howdens’ data processing capabilities has been transformational – and even more impressive than the proof of concept suggested.

Faster reporting

Daily reporting across the organization is up to 99% faster overall.

“Getting more timely information means our managers can carry out better quality planning. They can spend more time looking at where to focus their efforts in order to improve sales performance.” Trevor Cowan, Group BI Systems Manager, Howdens Joinery

Future growth

The improved performance and flexibility means that data is now delivered, well within SLAs, to the sales managers and depots. This now gives Howdens confidence that, as the business continues to grow, it will be able to deliver the right information, to the right people, at the right time.

New levels of insight into the performance of the business

SAP HANA has enabled managers to ask more complex questions to its BW system. Before the move to HANA, such questions would result in time-outs or system crashes. Now, the queries are answered in seconds, enabling them to slice and dice data in a way that wasn't previously possible.

“SAP HANA has opened up new depths of insight for us. There’s a whole range of queries and analyses available to us that we couldn’t run before. We can now dig much deeper into the data, and get a more accurate picture of what needs to be done to drive success.”  Trevor Cowan, Group BI Systems Manager, Howdens Joinery

Ability to exploit new technologies  

With SAP HANA, Howden’s can exploit new technologies on top of its BW system that previously wouldn’t have been possible. For example, dashboarding, analytics, and BI4 reporting on HANA views.

Why Bluefin?

Howdens has been working with Bluefin Solutions as a Business Information partner for over 10 years, resulting in a high level of trust and confidence in Bluefin’s ability to deliver.

“Bluefin Solutions’ approach to the implementation coupled with its robust project management and rigorous testing, resulted in one of the most straightforward deployments that Howdens’ IT team has ever experienced."
“Bluefin gave us the confidence that we were working with a partner who’d been down this road before. Their experience with SAP HANA implementations meant they understood the challenges we were facing, and could resolve any issues that emerged along the way. That confidence resonated through the Howdens team as the project progressed.” Trevor Cowan, Group BI Systems Manager, Howdens Joinery

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