REVIEWER: Tom Miller, manager of plant controlling for BMW Manufacturing Corp.

BACKGROUND: BMW Manufacturing Corp., based in South Carolina, is the first facility of its kind to be built outside of Germany where the parent company, BMW AG, is located. Today, Z3 roadsters and coupes, M (motorsport) roadsters and coupes and the X5 sports activity vehicle are built at the factory and exported throughout the world. The company needed a fast, flexible reporting system to manage its plant cost structure and productivity targets. We set aggressive productivity targets and then move toward those targets using specific cost measurements. To become more productive each year, we track costs associated with building a car, including direct labor, maintenance and utilities. We compare those costs to our targets and report problems as we pursue those productivity goals. Finance and operations all had the same goal of improving productivity while controlling costs. However, we lacked the tool to help us track our progress and prioritize problems encountered along the way. Our SAP system gave us reports, but they were just not flexible and user-friendly enough for both financial and nonfinancial users.

PLATFORMS: BMW Manufacturing Corp. uses Comshare Decision with Microsoft OLAP (SQL Server Analysis Services).

PROBLEM SOLVED: Using Decision, we measure cost performance on a monthly basis. Decision, working in tandem with our ERP system, renders the information that both operations and finance managers need. That winning combination has realized dramatic time savings for us. Previously, each month we would close the books, print out stacks of paper from SAP, re-key that into different formats and spreadsheets, make hard copies and overheads, and then distribute the information through e-mail and other methods. Today, using Decision, we close the books and post the data to our data warehouse, and the information shows up automatically in Decision. Information is available in minutes. Users create personal views to get the information they need in a system that is both flexible and easy to use. We have a potential of up to a few hundred people who will benefit from having access to this information.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: It previously took up to 10 people two days to deliver the same information Decision does in minutes. That adds up to a lot of cost savings. Additionally, because Decision is compliant with the company's information technology strategy and investment, we saved the company money once again. Because we were already using SAP, Oracle and Microsoft Analysis Services, we didn't have to purchase any additional software to use Decision.

STRENGTHS: Today, our finance and operating groups are working together using the same, nonconflicting data. The Comshare system saves us time in getting the data we need in useful formats, and we can go deeper into the data to identify and fix problems before they grow. Because of Comshare, we have more information available for better analysis and decision making. What we are doing with the software today may be useful to the entire BMW organization worldwide. We see ourselves as a catalyst for change.

WEAKNESSES: In our case, Decision sits on top of a Microsoft OLAP (SQL Server Analysis Services) database. While implementing our application or debugging problems across this product combination, Comshare was not able to provide enough timely technical support.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We realized that we'd either have to throw more manpower at the existing system to program the required special reports or look elsewhere for a ready-made solution. It never made sense from a cost point of view to make that in-house solution investment. We were looking for speed, flexibility and the ability for financial and non-financial users alike to use and feel comfortable with the application ­ at the lowest possible cost. Those attributes are what we found in Comshare.

DELIVERABLES: Our decision has been beneficial to the company's controllers because of Decision's powerful data visualization capabilities. They use Decision's drill-down and color-coding capabilities that alert them to problems or areas on which to focus. They also appreciate the system's flexibility. We are not limited to canned report structures. We can construct the data on the screen to fit the specific questions being asked, immediately.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Comshare gave us good support in all areas except the Decision/Microsoft OLAP (SQL Server Analysis Services) interface. We had to escalate our concerns to achieve a breakthrough.

DOCUMENTATION: The software is visual and interactive so it tends to be self-explanatory. As a result, we seldom use the documentation.

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