Preparing for analytics-driven business: an interview with Glencore Agriculture’s Paul Albregt

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Since we started The Analytics Academy, we have helped dozens of organizations discover the ins and outs of big data, from using it to drive business value to setting up the right analytics program and IT infrastructure. Glencore Agriculture BV is one of those organizations we’ve had the pleasure of working with. Glencore Agriculture BV is part of Glencore Agriculture, a market leader in originating, handling, processing and marketing agricultural commodities, including grain, oilseeds, pulses, sugar, rice, cotton, vegetable oils, protein meals and biodiesel.

We worked closely with Paul Albregt, Business Intelligence Architect at Glencore Agriculture BV, to set up an analytics training program for the agriculture division’s employees. We spoke with Paul to learn more about the role Business Intelligence plays at his company and how they are preparing for a data-driven future.

Paul, can you tell us more about Glencore Agriculture’s core business and where you operate?

Glencore Agriculture is a stand-alone company established in December 2016 from the divestment of the Glencore Agricultural Products business.

Glencore Agriculture has a significant presence in all principal import and export markets. Our operations span more than 35 countries worldwide including marketing offices in 34 countries.

Our origination and marketing business is built around a network of high-quality assets comprising 274 storage facilities, 36 processing facilities and 23 ports in strategic locations around the world. In addition, our global shipping fleet and rail assets allow us to facilitate timely and efficient delivery of products to our customers. We primarily buy directly from producers and farming cooperatives where possible. Our customers include food manufacturers, animal feed manufacturers, consumer product processors, local importers and distributors and government purchasing entities.

Our management of the full supply chain ensures all products delivered to end-use customers meet their specific requirements and are consistent, reliable and high quality.

With a focus on sustainability, safety, reliability and the high quality of our supply chain, marketing and processing activities we are committed to safeguarding our customers, employees, local communities and the environment.

I work at Glencore Agriculture BV, the office in the Netherlands.

Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Paul Albregt

I’ve worked in Business Intelligence for 16 years. I started as a report developer at ING Group in 2001 and then moved to ING Car Lease in 2005. Around that time, my role changed and I started working as a business analyst. Then ING sold ING Car Lease to BMW and the company continued as Alphabet (the car lease branch of BMW). I worked there until late 2014, when I joined Glencore Agriculture BV.

What do you do at Glencore Agriculture BV?

I’ve been at Glencore Agriculture for a little more than 2 years. I’m currently working with the Business Intelligence (BI) team, which is part of our IT department. I coordinate team activities and work in both business analysis and architecture.

What is the main function of a Business Intelligence architect?

In my opinion, a BI architect needs to create a complete overview of the company’s BI landscape. He or she must also understand the impact of changes on that landscape.

The BI architect is responsible for design principles, guidelines and agreements and acts as a guardian and advisor. Besides effectively solving problems, the person holding this role should constantly be looking for improvements. It’s important to understand the requirements of tomorrow and not just tackle today’s challenges. Keeping up with trends and new techniques and determining how these could benefit the organization are key aspects of the role as well.

What are the major challenges faced by a Business Intelligence architect?

The biggest challenge is always to determine the next step to focus on. Choosing a path that meets both business needs and technical capabilities is difficult. There is a fine balance you need to consider between costs, the number and type of users you will have, the data you have available, how to collect more, performance and scalability.

My approach is to start small and grow along the way.

How does the Big Data Revolution impact Glencore Agriculture BV?

Glencore Agriculture BV recognizes the opportunities Big Data brings. For instance, we see that more and more open data is available, and we understand that IoT (Internet of Things) can bring us future opportunities and benefits. So we’re already thinking of ways to support this in the future, from both an organizational and technology perspective.

Do you currently have a preferred analytics tool?

We are using Tableau to visualize data and do analytics and we like it very much. It’s very intuitive software and users can get started quite easily because it connects to many data sources. However, it does need investment to master. You need time to learn to use the tool to its full potential.

In your role, you are also responsible for providing basic data science training at Glencore Agriculture BV. Why did you choose The Analytics Academy to partner with you?

In our quest to expand our services at the BI team, we wanted to focus more on analytics. We started using Tableau last year and we discovered that having a tool is one thing, but mastering a data analytics process is another story. So, we decided to introduce basic training as the first step to gain more analytics maturity. In our search for a training partner, we found The Analytics Academy.

What we liked most about the Academy was that it involved the University of Amsterdam (a strong partner from a theoretical standpoint) and ORTEC (a company with decades of practical experience in the field).

After a few meetings, we decided to set up a program. So far we’ve had 5 days of training. The sessions offered a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge. I’m happy to say they were very well-received. The learning approach was tailored to our needs since we addressed questions like “what do we want to tackle by using analytics” and “what kind of data do we have available.” The practical sessions challenged us to prepare and cleanse data and create a visual presentation.

In sum, we got some background theory, learned about different ways to present our data, learned more about using R, and discovered new visualization possibilities with Tableau.

Would you say this is a step towards implementing big data?

I would say we are indirectly implementing big data because we’re training our employees in this field. We see that the role of data analysts is becoming more important so we want our employees to develop analytical skills. In the meantime, we are looking at our technical landscape as well to support big data analytics in the future.

How did you introduce these topics internally?

We started by setting up the introductory training and we’re experimenting with prepared data sets so we can learn from this and start preparing for the future. When a user sees the possibilities, they can see what they can achieve and will identify opportunities for improvement. This will result in new requests, and it will be our task to support and facilitate them.

In a large international trading company, BI is crucial to succeed. What role does BI play at Glencore Agriculture BV?

For the past 5 years the demand for BI has been growing in the organization and we are providing our services to more departments within the company. The BI team itself is also growing in numbers and the specialties we have in-house are becoming more diverse.

In my view, data is the most valuable commodity we have, as we are a commodity trader. We have a lot of exciting projects in the backlog and hope to do a lot more in the future.

Would you say there a recipe to succeed in BI?

I think if you want to be successful in BI, you need to have some freedom to experiment and try new things. Having good results means you will have a supporting management team. This is a good basis to move forward and we are taking exactly this approach.

Are there specific roles or departments that can benefit from working with analytics within Glencore Agriculture BV?

In our organization departments like Accounting, Risk and Trade can benefit a lot from using data and analytics. Our mission as the BI team is to deliver the organization the information it needs to make better and faster decisions.

Data is crucial to answer these business related questions in the best possible way.

How could your organization benefit from working with The Analytics Academy?

The Analytics Academy can help us train data analysts to become better and better.

Would you advise others to work with The Analytics Academy?

Yes. I like the professional but friendly atmosphere and I think the partnership behind The Analytics Academy (UvA and ORTEC) is very strong. The people I’ve met and worked with are all very experienced and they’ve helped us discover new insights.

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