EuroChem Antwerp lays the foundation for a data-driven organization

The Antwerp branch of fertilizer manufacturer EuroChem knew it was sitting on a goldmine of data. It decided to call on the services of data intelligence specialist LACO to mine this resource. The result is operational excellence that’s now also easily measurable and reportable. Now EuroChem is well on its way to becoming a more data-driven organization.

logo EuroChem


As part of its carve-out from BASF, EuroChem Antwerp needed to get a grip on its data, which was spread across different silos within the company and stored using different technologies. Additionally, EuroChem Antwerp couldn’t provide most of the support services that BASF used to offer, making reporting very difficult.


LACO implemented an integrated platform that groups all of EuroChem Antwerp’s data and unlocks it for reporting and analytics, using a combination of Microsoft’s Data Platform and Microsoft Power BI.


Reporting now requires less manual work in Excel, increasing operational efficiency and reducing human error. The data platform provides EuroChem with a solid launchpad for the future as it grows into a truly data-driven organization.

Setting the scene: a key production plant


EuroChem Antwerp is a manufacturing facility with good logistics infrastructure within the EuroChem Group with its headquarters in Switzerland. “Our end product is fertilizer granules for use in agriculture and horticulture,” explains Bernard De Vriese, the company’s IT Manager. “We produce about 2.2 million tons of these mineral fertilizers here every year.”

EuroChem Antwerp is also an important logistics hub for the group, thanks to its strategic location in the Port of Antwerp. From there, EuroChem serves the international market. The facility employs 400 people and has an annual turnover of €1 billion.



The problem: getting the data right


“We are purely a manufacturing company,” emphasizes Continuous Improvement Specialist Pieter Callens. This is evidenced by how the company employs data. Like any industrial manufacturing company, EuroChem generates a huge amount of data. In addition to the usual ERP data from finance and HR, there’s also lots of supply chain and warehouse data and even data about energy consumption — crucial for a chemical company seeking to optimize its cost structure.

And then of course there is all data generated by the production facility itself where IoT technology allows data from production processes to be automatically recorded, from standard process parameters over minor disruptions to major interventions. This production data is used intensively, although mainly for operational purposes. “Our production line simply wouldn’t run without all that information,” says De Vriese. Not only was this data used tactically rather than strategically, but all too often it was processed in a manual, non-automated, and time-consuming manner. In addition, there was a significant risk of human error and unreliable, compromised data.

Having one version of the truth is a very attractive prospect for management. But if everyone is working on their own Excel file, discrepancies can arise, creating the danger that before long, everyone is talking about a different thing.



Extra challenge: sharing the data


What didn’t help, of course, was that the data was spread across different islands or silos within the company, stored using different technologies, from Access databases to Excel and XML files. “Our way of working has changed so much since the takeover of the Antwerp factory by EuroChem,” says Callens. Until April 2012, EuroChem Antwerp was part of the chemical giant BASF, and the two companies still share a site and a number of central services and logistics activities.

However, the change meant that EuroChem Antwerp had to establish most of the support services that BASF used to provide, from finance to HR. “We didn’t always have the necessary experience in-house,” Callens admits. This has made reporting difficult. Not only was the data not integrated, it was also not automatically shared between the different data silos. The reporting that did take place was quite static and required a lot of repetitive manual work. An additional driver for the data project was the planned migration from Oracle to SAP, another consequence of the carve-out of EuroChem from BASF. Because some data was in danger of being lost during the migration, the company wanted to first secure all its data on a separate platform, which would be connected to the new ERP environment via loose coupling.



The solution: a data platform based on Microsoft Power BI


“To get rid of all those islands, we needed a central data platform with a central reporting mechanism,” says Callens. In his additional role of Data Management Specialist, Callens is also the main point of contact for the creation and use of reports at EuroChem Antwerp. “Concepts such as BI and data warehousing could provide a solution to the problems we’d been struggling with for some time. One of them was to arrive at a consensus on how to calculate important Key Performance Indicators based on the now centralized and controlled data. That process is now fully underway, thanks to LACO.”

Data intelligence specialist LACO advised and supported EuroChem Antwerp as they implemented an integrated platform that groups all their data and unlocks it for reporting and analytics. “I had previously worked successfully with LACO,” says De Vriese, explaining why he chose the local supplier. To achieve the necessary internal buy-in for the ambitious project, they decided to move forward in steps. “We first did a Data Strategy study with LACO. After we had done a thorough analysis with the stakeholders from the various departments, we took our assessment to the local Board of Directors to ask for the green light. And we got that quickly.”



And finally: data-driven business success through operational efficiency


In addition to an architectural blueprint, a concrete implementation roadmap, aimed at rapid value creation has been delivered as part of the Data Strategy study. EuroChem and LACO drew up a priority list to identify the most important benefits. “We started by creating a value map,” Callens remembers. “One of the priority decisions that has resulted from this is to allow the business to work more with reports.”

At LACO’s suggestion, EuroChem opted for a highly iterative approach to the implementation of the new Microsoft data platform. This was carried out by a fixed team, involving the end users from the outset. Callens has nothing but praise for LACO’s functional analyst: “He was very professional and customer-oriented. And that was never a given, because he had to dig into our context again and again and then respond very flexibly.”

Soon the results were clear. Staff now have to do less manual work in Excel. This increases operational efficiency and reduces human error. And because EuroChem now has a source of high-quality reference data, the much sought-after single version of the truth is also gradually becoming a reality and the delivery of the strategic KPI’s is on its way.

To make this possible, a number of standard reports were also developed. “A striking example is the report for the various capital expenditure initiatives within our branch.” Reporting on capital expenditure turned out to be not only very complex but also something that quite a few departments struggled with. This included the finance department and general management, who must be able to identify any overspend. But it also included engineering departments with project managers, up to and including asset managers, who are responsible for the maintenance of the installations. “In the past, all those colleagues had to use complex Excel files that we feared would have only a limited lifespan. Today, most of those reports have been replaced by a BI report that’s simple and fast to create, as well as flexible to use and always up to date.”

“The most important work has been done,” concludes De Vriese. “The foundation is there.” This foundation provides EuroChem with a solid launch pad for the future as it grows into a true data-driven organization.

Bernard De Vriese

IT Manager, EuroChem

“We first did a Data Strategy study with LACO. After we had done a thorough analysis with the stakeholders from the various departments, we took our assessment to local Board of Directors to ask for the green light. And we got that quickly.”

Bernard De Vriese, IT Manager at EuroChem

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