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Azure Blueprint to Improve Business Intelligence

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The Customer

Canfor is one of the world’s largest producers of sustainable lumber, pulp, and paper and has built its reputation on product quality, supply reliability, and superior customer service.

The Project

Azure Blueprint for Improving Business Intelligence


As an operator of sawmills and pulp mills spread across North America, Canfor relies heavily on data and analytics to keep its operations efficient and sustainable.

When the company’s new Vice President of IT wanted to transform the analytics infrastructure, he turned to Improving (Toronto) a Microsoft partner that specializes in delivering advanced analytics solutions for heavy-asset industries like forestry and mining, to modernize the data architecture so the business could access standardized and trusted information for decision-making anytime, anywhere.

The Challenge

One critical challenge Canfor faced was the implementation of an Executive KPI Dashboard. Previous attempts on a different cloud platform had been unsuccessful and time-consuming, causing executives to doubt its feasibility.

Despite piloting another cloud platform, Canfor struggled with development time, limited progress, reliance on third-party tools, and high costs. To overcome these obstacles and achieve their analytics vision, Canfor turned to Improving (Toronto), a Microsoft Solutions Partner specializing in advanced analytics solutions for industries like forestry. Canfor aimed to improve delivery times, reduce complexity, and increase cost efficiencies.

Another priority application transformation was Canfor’s market intelligence app. Shifting economic conditions have a big impact on the company, given that demand for building supplies and print materials is tied to consumer spending. The market intelligence team looks at data from more than 60 sources, such as builder statistics, regional permitting, and real estate sales, to help the company adapt to any shifts at the earliest possible moment.

The Solution

After performing a business and technology assessment, Improving (Toronto) developed an end-to-end data analytics blueprint for Canfor that outlined how the company could deliver on its analytics vision across the organization using Microsoft Azure as its data platform. Because Azure provides a comprehensive, integrated data and analytics tool set, Canfor could realize faster delivery times and reduced complexity, while also increasing cost efficiencies.

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The Business Benefits

Canfor has reaped several business benefits through its partnership with Improving (Toronto) and the adoption of Microsoft Azure as its data platform. By modernizing its data architecture, Canfor gained access to standardized and reliable information, enabling efficient decision-making across the organization. Azure's comprehensive data and analytics tool set offered faster delivery times, reduced complexity, and increased cost efficiencies. Canfor was able to leverage industry expertise and build customized solutions on top of the Azure platform, enabling them to address pressing business needs without lengthy custom development.

Michael Matrick

VP, Improving
Microsoft Azure makes it easier for us to help customers be successful, as we can easily build our industry expertise on top of the data platform, with tremendous capabilities from an integration perspective, we can deliver projects in a reasonable timeframe to address pressing business needs without requiring lengthy custom development.

One of the significant business benefits for Canfor was the successful implementation of an Executive KPI Dashboard. By leveraging Azure SQL, Azure Data Factory, and Azure DevOps, Improving designed an architecture that provided executives with unprecedented business insights. The dashboard, visualizing key performance indicators for finance, operations, human resources, and safety, offered near real-time visibility into the health of the business.

By transitioning from manual data reconciliation to automated, real-time data monitoring, Canfor's executive team gained the ability to make more informed decisions, reduce data inconsistencies, and minimize the risk of errors. The success of this project empowered Canfor to pursue further transformations, including retiring legacy back-end services and enhancing automation and control through Power Apps.

Additionally, Canfor's market intelligence app, critical for adapting to shifting economic conditions, underwent a successful re-platforming onto Azure Data Lake Storage and Azure Machine Learning Studio. This migration enabled the market intelligence team to perform more in-depth analytics while benefiting from an elastic environment that scales up and down on demand.

With improved capabilities, Canfor can adjust forecasts, control costs, and optimize production, maximizing profitability based on accurate market insights. The success of these transformative projects has led Canfor to accelerate the migration of legacy data systems to the cloud, leveraging Azure's capabilities to support other key initiatives in its lumber and pulp divisions, such as optimizing energy sourcing and improving transport safety through image recognition technology.

By embracing Azure as its core data and analytics platform, Canfor is experiencing a rapid return on investment, enabling business transformation, and positioning itself for future growth.

Why Improving?

With the initial successes from the Improving blueprint creating better business outcomes, Canfor has made the decision to accelerate the migration of legacy data systems to the cloud. The Microsoft Azure data analytics platform will support other key initiatives of the business, including its lumber and pulp divisions. The company has already planned to engage Improving for re-platforming a core on-premises data warehouse for its pulp business, optimizing energy sourcing for pulp mills, and using image recognition technology to improve transport safety.

“With Azure as the core of its data and analytics vision, Canfor is seeing a rapid return on investment in terms of business transformation,” said Matrick. “Azure tools and services make it easier for partners like us to build the industry-specific functionality needed on top of that foundation. The value of their investment will only grow over time as they continue on this journey.”

Energy & Utilities
Modern Data

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