CATEGORY: BI Tools

REVIEWER: Gail Grod, manager of AS/400 operations and development at American Italian Pasta Company.

BACKGROUND: Founded in 1987 by Richard Thomas, American Italian Pasta Company (AIPC) is currently the largest pasta manufacturer in North America. Recently, the company has expanded to Italy as well. The company went public in 1997.

PLATFORMS: NGS-IQ from New Generation Software (NGS) runs on IBM AS/400.

PROBLEM SOLVED: AIPC's critical sales summary report needed to be run every morning by one of our users. This report was created by running a series of six IBM AS/400 queries in precise order, building summary databases and then creating reports. The information from the report was then manually keyed into Excel for further analysis. If the responsible user was late or on vacation, the margin of error increased. Using the NGS-IQ business intelligence solutions on the IBM AS/400 midrange computer, we were able to tie the required queries into one run that was placed in an auto-scheduler. This allowed the report to run consistently at 6 a.m. without fail. We used this report as our test for Qport SmartView, NGS-IQ's OLAP module for multidimensional data analysis at the desktop. In two hours, I produced three data cubes from these reports ­ open orders, invoiced orders and shipped but not invoiced orders. When management saw my demonstration, they then requested that all three reports be consolidated into one data cube for analysis by business unit, business manager, label, cost/margin and comparison of budgeted to actual. In a day and a half (and one phone call to NGS-IQ support), I had completed the additional requests. The data cube allowed the user to drill down to the detail level, which had never before been available. I later learned that an expert consultant had quoted a time estimate of over one month to achieve what NGS-IQ and SmartView had accomplished in two days.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: NGS-IQ provided AIPC with two especially meaningful options. The first was the ability to allow the user to enter run-time parameters (such as a date range) without any real knowledge of how to use I.Q. Server, the query development engine for the product suite. In addition, I.Q. Server includes skeleton CL programs so that you can incorporate running an I.Q. Server query from a menu option, just like the rest of the corporate reporting. This makes the entire I.Q. Server experience transparent to the user. The second important feature was the ability to keep track not only of which user created the report, but who changed it last, who ran it last and when. For a company trying to manage more than 2,500 IBM AS/400 queries, this provided a solution to an administrative nightmare. Qport SmartView builds on these strengths.

STRENGTHS: The fact that Qport SmartView builds upon NGS-IQ reports already in place allows you to save even more time and money getting the information to the user.

WEAKNESSES: My only complaint so far is that sometimes the PC-based programs encounter a conflict with other programs running on a PC.

DELIVERABLES: Now as soon as they sign on each morning, the company's sales managers have access to the latest sales information ­ at a high level or in detail. They are no longer dependent on IS to produce these reports. We have also taken this approach with inventory. Using this product allowed us to replace more than 100 IBM queries with one NGS-IQ query and the resulting data cube. The planning department has more information, and they have confidence in their own ability to alter the look of the cube for a particular purpose.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The support from NGS is always pleasant and helpful. They remain calm and supportive as they gather the facts they need to assist you.

DOCUMENTATION: The programs are intuitive enough that massive training/documentation is not necessary. However, the documentation is very clear, concise and pragmatic. One feature I especially appreciate is that the management tools are in a separate manual so that a power user cannot "get any ideas."

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