Bill Priakos, COO, Dallas Cowboys Merchandising
Bill Priakos is an upbeat senior executive who loves his job and loves his team, which in this case is his job. Priakos is the chief operating officer of Dallas Cowboys Merchandising, the hands-on leader behind the NFL's most lucrative merchandising brand - with an undisclosed but estimated nine-figure sales business. This is a man with big plans.
But sitting in his office one year ago, Priakos was not feeling especially upbeat, as in, the-COO-who-reports-directly-to-Cowboys-owner-Jerry-Jones is not happy.
Starting in 2002, Priakos had co-engineered a plan to bring all Dallas Cowboys merchandising in house through contracted manufacturing and his own warehousing, distribution and direct sales, something every NFL team is allowed to do but no others have pulled off before or since. The plan was realized, but years into the project, Priakos was having a hard time running what felt like four businesses at the same time.
To manage the infrastructure, the Cowboys had invested in a technology overhaul and two years ago re-upped the stakes by purchasing point-of-sale, manufacturing logistics, Web and financial systems. As the enterprise resource planning, accounting and transactional centerpiece of the deployment, Microsoft Dynamics AX was expected to be the font of information for unified reporting.
As rollout neared completion, Priakos was still unable to gather visibility and connect the dots of his operations - the veritable heartbeat of any COO's daily existence. His expectation, in his own words, was to "look at one business at 10 a.m., look at another at 10:15 and wrap my metrics all up in one deal" shortly after that.
"We kept hearing that business intelligence was coming and that these four new software pieces were coming together," Priakos says. "And now I was beginning to get very worried because we'd bought it under one umbrella with one throat to choke, but I couldn't see reporting in aggregate." The ultimatum went straight from Priakos to everyone listening. "I said, 'guys, we've invested all this money on software and made all this effort and if I can't report, this is an utter disaster, a ship that never gets out of the dock.'"
One year later, the ship has been righted and has begun its proper journey, with the help of BI visualization and analytics software, and key contributions from a local systems integrator. Priakos now has the kind of visibility sales teams can expect will lead to increased guidance and scrutiny that one source, who preferred to remain anonymous, said might turn the COO into "a real monster." That seems a likely outcome because the Cowboys have big expectations that include a new stadium and many more business opportunities to exploit.
In September, 2008, Bill Luisi, a VP from Irving, Texas-based systems integrator Teknion Data Solutions, had his first meeting with then head of technology and now Dallas Cowboys CIO Pete Walsh.
"The first 25 minutes were about the woes of what they had tried to accomplish in changing out the whole IT system and moving the application environment to Microsoft," says Luisi.
Teknion is a Microsoft partner and the central purpose of Luisi's visit was to talk about business intelligence and what kind of reporting and analytics he'd be able to get from the new system. Luisi and Walsh discussed the possibility of building an enterprise data warehouse, something both men calculated might balloon into another costly and time-consuming commitment.
Short of that, the two discussed creating a less intensive data mart that would store some older customer and sales information and also breaking operational data on the sales, shipping and stocking Priakos wanted to pull together and keep tabs on. While the Cowboys' core system investments - manufacturing and distribution software from Manhattan Associates, Web retail management from Ignify, Microsoft point-of-sale software and the aforementioned Dynamics transactional system - were required for the heavy lifting, none offered the right sort of unified reporting. Luisi suggested visualization and analytics software from an outside vendor to fill in the missing piece.
"We knew there were certain things within Microsoft that could be done, but frankly we were pretty excited about what we had already seen in working with Tableau Software," Luisi says. "We thought that was actually a better fit for what they were trying to accomplish than the reporting services and the PerformancePoint products Microsoft had available at the time."
Tableau's specialty is not back-end transactions, but visualization and complex number crunching. The software sits agnostically atop embedded systems and aggregates information into dashboard views that can be compared and manipulated through drag-and-drop menus. After a hands-on demonstration with Priakos that included a mockup of the new Cowboys Stadium (and views of negative performance that showed opposing team helmets), Priakos thought he might have found the "fourth party" that could deliver the reporting he and his managers needed.
But he was not sold yet. "I grilled the poor guy doing the demo," Priakos says. "I was still very skeptical, having gotten a lot of the same promises before, but he kept answering my questions and before I could move on, he coached and showed me more information I might want to drill into."
The next step was a proof of concept in which Teknion would extract production data from the Cowboys' back-end systems into a data cube for analysis with the Tableau visualization tool. (See Sidebar: Under the Covers, below)