CATEGORY: Data Integration
REVIEWER: Ken DesRochers, senior vice president of information technology at Allied Office Products.
BACKGROUND: Founded in 1947 and based in Clifton, New Jersey, Allied provides office supplies, furniture, coffee and beverage, print and promotional products to clients across a wide range of industries. The company has 17 sales offices throughout the United States, primarily in the northeast and mid- Atlantic regions. Allied has acquired 29 companies since 1998, and the company's strategy of acquisitions and organic growth has yielded a 60 percent annual revenue increase, reaching sales of approximately $300 million in 2001.
PLATFORMS: Oracle9i, running on a Solaris SPARC system and supporting Allied's e-commerce Web site; Salesforce.com, our Web-based customer relationship management system (CRM); and, for financials, a legacy enterprise resource planning system custom-built by The Systems House (TSH), running on an IBM AIX RS/6000 system with a UniData database.
PROBLEM SOLVED: We have met the dual challenge of growing sales while continually improving service to existing clients by aggressively mining our enterprise systems for customer information and by implementing solutions that provide better connectivity and new services to our clients. As a key element of these initiatives, we implemented the Ascential Enterprise Integration Suite to profile, cleanse, extract and transform client-related data from disparate enterprise systems and load it into a central data warehouse. The result is better information and deeper insights into our customer base and sales trends. In addition, we have implemented Ascential Real-Time Integration (RTI) Services to provide real-time customer service, order processing and supply chain management as we continue to strive for increased customer satisfaction levels.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Currently, Allied is using Ascential Software's DataStage, QualityStage and ProfileStage to pull customer data from the Oracle and TSH systems, merge and cleanse the data, and update the database in our CRM solution through Web services. The result is a reliable, accurate data set for the customer management system. This clean, integrated information (which is extracted from three systems) feeds a centralized data warehouse where our staff can analyze account and user-level trends from both marketing and supply chain planning perspectives. Additionally, Allied is employing the data quality capabilities within QualityStage to extract the data from our CRM system, scrub it through QualityStage, highlight new users and accounts, reassemble it and then upload it into the CRM solution. In the process, the system generates error reports to identify redundant entries or to notify sales reps of missing data. This approach helps us better manage our CRM data from the account and user perspective.
STRENGTHS: The key strengths of the product for us were the ability to work with our legacy systems, the service-oriented architecture (SOA) and the integrated data quality capabilities.
WEAKNESSES: Paradoxically, the biggest weakness is the suite's strength. It's very easy to quickly develop many routines to transform, move and integrate critical business information. It's so easy that sometimes someone creates a routine without telling the rest of the development team, or we just find ourselves needing to rethink what we've done and do a little housekeeping to keep our system in order.
SELECTION CRITERIA: An important criterion was the ability of our integration solution to communicate with our existing infrastructure and systems which are a combination of custom applications, hosted software and packaged applications. We also wanted a solution that would evolve with us. We anticipate a need within the next three years to move to SOA. Ascential Software's support for Web services and SOA ensures that our IT system will be ready for this change. In fact, we are already using Ascential's RTI Services to let customers process returns online. The software's SOA enables us to link our enterprise data, effectively improvind data integration within our enterprise.
DELIVERABLES: The Ascential Enterprise Integration Suite is able to provide us with actionable information. Allied now is seeking to exploit the intelligence that the company is gleaning from a centralized view of our customers.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Pre- and post-implementation vendor support was excellent. The best part of working with the vendor is we don't have to see them a lot. Everything works great, there are no bugs and we're reaping all the business benefits we'd hoped for.
DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is great, but this is a big piece of mission-critical software, and I wouldn't recommend depending on the documentation alone. The jumpstart training was essential in order to extract the full value from the software.
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