The OpsFactor Case: creating a solution for demand planning in Brazil using Renjin and Amazon Elastic Beanstalk

Introduction

In this Case Study we explore how Renjin is used by the company OpsFactor to develop a demand planning solution. Renjin, acting as a bridge between the strongest components of the Java and the R world, facilitates the cooperation between specialists and generalists and accelerates the workflow of the company. We spoke with the founder of OpsFactor, Erick Butler Poletto who explained what the company offers, how they are using Renjin and R packages and how they leveraged the fact that Renjin can be integrated with Amazon Elastic Beanstalk.

The company

The OpsFactor company was created out of the emerging need for a retail demand planning solution for the LaTam market. The available planning solutions from major technology suppliers were focused on the industrial sector and complex to implement, so the need for a more specific retail-oriented solution that was quick to deploy led Mr. Poletto to create OpsFactor. Using the knowledge and experience accumulated from his previous working positions, Mr. Poletto created a user-oriented tool aimed to the process owners of the sales, operations and financial departments of medium-sized companies (USD 50M to 500M).

The product

The tool, written in Java, allows the team of OpsFactor to predict demand and to plan accordingly, to determine optimal pricing and to optimize the supply chain plan eventually. The use of the R language is a key factor for the company's work thanks to the vast variety of packages available and its dynamic community. For their product, the R language was the obvious solution for the statistical analysis of the data collected.

More specifically, OpsFactor predicts the quantity of sales for each location and for each product produced by the client companies. To do that they are using two R packages designed for this type of analyses: the 'forecast' and the 'Rpart' package. Then, based on these predictions, they are able to advise companies on how to best supply products and materials to stores so that there is no shortage.

Renjin and the product

Renjin, being a JVM-based interpreter for the R language, was integrated in this Java solution to enable the team to run the R packages. By integrating Renjin into a tool written in Java, OpsFactor manages to leverage the benefits of the solid infrastructure offered by the Java world and the flexible and powerful potential of the R language. With this integration, the team does the forecasting needed quickly and calculates the effect of a promotion activity or campaign (e.g. Black Friday) based on sales data.

Also, instead of losing time and resources translating the R packages into the Java language, the team uses Renjin to accelerate their workflow and use analyses written in R directly in production. This maximizes collaboration between the two different fields of expertise -- data science and application development.

Renjin and Amazon Elastic Beanstalk

Thanks to its compatibility with Amazon Elastic Beanstalk, the team of OpsFactor preferred using Renjin to JRI/rJava and proceeded in moving their solution to a Platform as a Service. Amazon Elastic Beanstalk allows the orchestration of various AWS services. It is an important part of the company's infrastructure, since it offloads the burden of maintaining servers. They decided not to use JRI/rJava, which would have required additional staff time to install, configure and maintain. Mr. Poletto notes “So basically you cannot use JRI on Beanstalk. We had to create a custom server and install GNU R and it made server maintenance more complicated. Using Beanstalk is a much easier way of maintaining the services. And Renjin enabled that.”

As for the switch from JRI to Renjin, the decision was made based on the fact that Renjin is easy to maintain compared to JRI and that the switch is seamless.

Mr. Poletto explains, “As I worked with JRI before, the switch was very seamless. It was really easy for me to get the idea. I didn't deal with other resources but to do the basic stuff it was fairly easy. [...] The advantage for us was the ease of maintenance compared to JRI. So, as a self-contained JAR file we can just upload it and forget about it. That's really good for us.”

All in all, the integration of Renjin in their demand planning Java tool, allowed OpsFactor to use the best parts of two different language worlds; the solid infrastructure for Java applications and the powerful packages of the R language. The 'forecast' and 'Rpart' R packages are used for predicting demand and for monitoring the effect of promotional campaigns. Also, the use of Renjin in place of translating R packages into the Java language, saves a lot of time and facilitates the cooperation between the analyst and the application developers. Finally, thanks to its compatibility with Amazon Elastic Beanstalk, Renjin was the only available solution for this type of integration and allowed the company to move their solution to a platform as a Service.