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Binney & Smith Accesses Corporate Data with PowerPlay

Published
  • July 01 1998, 1:00am EDT
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PLATFORMS: Binney & Smith utilizes a data mart, with data extracted from a J.D. Edwards system on an AS/400 into a Microsoft SQL Server database running on Windows NT Server.

BACKGROUND: Binney & Smith Canada is a leading manufacturer and distributor of art and craft materials. The company's products include well-known brands such as Crayola, Liquitex, Walter Foster books and Revell Monogram model kits.

PROBLEM SOLVED: In 1997 Binney & Smith realized it needed to change the way the sales and marketing, finance and production teams accessed critical data. At the time, the IT department was producing hard copies of more than 100 sales reports. While the reports provided managers with the information they required, they were produced according to a set schedule, and knowledge workers might not easily get up-to-date information on demand. In addition, the IT team was expending resources customizing reports for individual managers. In revamping the model for accessing corporate data, Binney & Smith determined that it needed to ensure it created an open, accessible data mart modeled on overall business objectives.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: PowerPlay, a multidimensional OLAP tool, allows Binney & Smith's various departments to get a spreadsheet or a graphical view of the data and then slice and dice the data by different factors that are important to them. PowerPlay publishes the data in easy-to-read charts and graphs that allow knowledge workers to quickly analyze the information. Impromptu is used for additional queries, drilling down to take a more detailed look at transactional data behind the summarized view presented by PowerPlay.

STRENGTHS: Impromptu and PowerPlay are easily deployed to the desktop, which enables workers throughout Binney & Smith to begin to analyze data on their own and frees the IS department to focus on developing new technology initiatives. A PowerPlay user can look at data according to the key factors in the company business model (identified in setting up the multidimensional Cognos PowerCube) such as dates, products, customers, orders, reps and margin ranges. PowerPlay cubes also summarize the vast amount of data stored in the SQL Server database into much smaller, portable files. One cube is specialized to provide information at a summary level and one to provide a more detailed look. With Impromptu and Cognos' unique analyze-then-query approach, users can drill down from within a PowerPlay cube to get more detailed data, directly from the relational source.

WEAKNESSES: Saving PowerPlay PowerCubes to Microsoft Excel can take a significant amount of time, and the size of the cube can have an impact on performance. Cognos provides a partitioning option to allow larger cubes to be optimized for performance.

SELECTION CRITERIA: PowerPlay and Impromptu offer an easy-to- implement solution with the best price/performance ratio. PowerPlay and Impromptu also integrate seamlessly with Microsoft's SQL Server and are perfectly suited the data mart. Cognos' easy-to-use, Windows-based interface has helped to minimize the need for user training.

DELIVERABLES: Binney & Smith has the ability to analyze all core aspects of the business, from the most recent sales figures to customer information. The combination of Microsoft SQL Server and Cognos' PowerPlay and Impromptu allowed Binney & Smith to build a cost-effective solution that is easy to administer and maintain.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Cognos was very responsive during development and deployment.

DOCUMENTATION: The written and on-line documentation is very thorough, simplifying installation, deployment and use of the tools.

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