Advantis Technologies, Inc. manufactures surface water chemicals, pool and spa chemicals and accessories. The company's flagship swimming pool and spa chemical brands include GLB Pool & Spa, Leisure Time, Robarb and Applied Biochemists, as well as Blue Devil tools and accessories.

With three divisions, three manufacturing plants, more than 2,000 branded and private- label products and 20 sales territories, we needed to get a better grasp on our historic and current sales records. Additionally, we were looking to get closer to our customers by performing analysis on customer buying patterns and the overall profitability of accounts.

In 1995, Advantis consolidated the multiple operational systems collected through a process of acquisitions into one central J.D. Edwards ERP system. It became readily apparent that acquiring sales information from the ERP system was difficult. With the ERP system, we had a good sales history database; but our ability to extract summary and comparative information was severely limited.

To generate our management reports, we were re-keying data from J.D. Edwards. Mistakes were inevitable; instead of interpreting and analyzing our business, a lot of time was wasted figuring out whose numbers were right.

More importantly, the information was out of date when it reached the sales force. As a result, reps felt uncomfortable walking into a customer for an order because orders could have already been placed.

We looked at a number of options including hiring a full-time programmer to generate custom reports, but the time required to produce and maintain the reports was prohibitive. We had had a preexisting relationship with CD Group, an EnabledWorlds partner (a Cognos center of excellence focused on providing best-of-business intelligence and e-commerce products, services and information developed exclusively for J.D. Edwards customers) for a solution. CD Group recommended Cognos e-Applications.

The strategic need for improved sales reporting was already well recognized, thus the proposed solution received immediate support from Advantis senior management. The implementation team included technical specialists from CD Group, our J.D. Edwards AS/400 programmer/analyst and myself. This group was able address both the technical installation and business requirements of the solution.

We had three key areas of emphasis for evaluating success. We wanted rapid integration with our J.D. Edwards ERP system. We wanted to drastically reduce reporting time and have a solution that gave us information in a business-critical time frame. Last but not least, we wanted significantly improved reporting accuracy. We had a good degree of executive sponsorship, and it was recognized that the project was central to our company's success.

The Cognos Sales Analysis e-Application, part of the e-Applications Business Performance Management foundation, provided a preconfigured information asset capturing the business metrics and reports our teams needed. The Cognos e-Applications solution also includes mappings in J.D. Edwards file structure to accelerate implementation, enabling us to leverage our transaction data into a full suite of business reports within one month.

The investment in Cognos e-Applications was cash neutral in year zero. Fundamentally, we can do analysis we could not do before and see things we had not considered before. Reporting times have been cut from two weeks to two hours, and the reports are distributed twice a month instead of monthly. Reports are now e-mailed to territory managers the same day they are produced. Because the reports are based on the transactional records from the ERP system, there are no discrepancies between transactional information and report information, which is key to success.

Cognos e-Applications have helped us sell better and be more responsive to customers. Everyone is working from the same numbers, driving confidence and increased productivity.

We are also able to see our business differently and gain more insight into the margin contribution of products and customers. This has allowed us to refocus our compensation strategy around margins, and we expect it to impact profits. This approach was initiated in one of our divisions and has now been rolled out to a second division, driving the same compensation restructuring.

Cognos e-Applications are analytic applications that extend the value of organizations' ERP systems, transforming operational data into consistent, reliable information optimized for reporting and analysis. Cognos e-Applications, out of the box, meet business users' needs at a lower cost than in-house development and save months or years of development effort.

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