BACKGROUND: Shell Canada Limited is one of the largest integrated petroleum companies in Canada. We are committed to discovering and developing hydrocarbon reserves and to providing our customers with quality products at a profit to shareholders. A major producer of crude oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids and bitumen, and the country's largest producer of sulfur, we are also a leading manufacturer, distributor and marketer of refined petroleum products. We employ more than 3,700 people at our head office in Calgary and operating locations across the country.
PLATFORMS: To provide decision support for management information, we operate an IBM AS/400 DB2 data warehouse. It contains four CPUs and has 4GB of main memory. We have approximately 100GB of data and are growing at the rate of 5GB per month. We use Windows NT 4.0 for servers and desktops, and Netscape for both Web servers and
PROBLEM SOLVED: Five years ago we implemented a J.D. Edwards ERP package that provided us with many integration benefits. We still had critical data our managers needed to help them run their businesses but they couldn't get to it. Thus our data warehouse was born with BusinessObjects providing the front end. At first, our only source of data for the warehouse was our ERP system, but this quickly changed. We now have data sourced from other centralized and decentralized systems as well as from external data providers. The warehouse answers many questions that help us run our business more efficiently: daily sales and margin reporting, supplier payment management, general ledger expense tracking, customer call center problem analysis, inventory movement tracking and accounts receivable analysis. Some of the more unique applications have been energy management, food store management and equipment maintenance.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: When we started deploying BusinessObjects in 1997, our primary clients were business analysts. These are the people who spend most of their day working with data, and we felt they would benefit the most from the software. We have since deployed to 250 users overall, from management to mobile workers. We are primarily using Bus-inessObjects, but we do have the thin-client WebIntelligence for the intranet installed to support some of our remote locations where network bandwidth is an issue.
STRENGTHS: The client interface is great; Business Objects has made it seamless from an end- user perspective. Users intuitively understand the point-and-click, drag-and- drop navigation. BusinessObjects Universe layer makes it easy for users to perform ad hoc queries. It insulates them from the complexities of the data warehouse. They see the data from a business rather than a systems point of view. The product suite is designed with a planned architectural foundation, not thrown together piecemeal. The batch scheduling capabilities allow us to offload repetitive work.
WEAKNESSES: One of the more time- consuming activities required by v4.1 is formatting tables into professional looking reports. Version 5.0 addresses this issue, and we expect to go operational with the new version in September. Version 5.0 has a standard styles feature to generate templates that replicate the same look every time. The new online documentation in 5.0 is a real plus as well. We would also like to centrally capture, store and report on the query statistics (such as time submitted, time completed, rows returned, CPU usage, etc.) from all of our full client install base. These auditing features exist today in WebIntelligence, and I'm told this will also be addressed in upcoming releases of the full client product.
SELECTION CRITERIA: For users, the primary criterion was the common client interface for all functions. For the IT department, the underlying architecture was the most important factor. In addition, we were impressed with BusinessObjects' strong scalability, load balancing and fail-over capabilities.
DELIVERABLES: We use all output types that the product supports tables, crosstabs, charts, etc. We make extensive use of the HTML save option for people reviewing reports on our intranet. Our business analysts can now access and interpret data without requiring IT's help. Now we only get involved for more complex requests.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Technical support from Business Objects is good. With the addition of their Web-based knowledge database and problem tracking facility, we're more self-sufficient. If we do need tech support, response is acceptable most of the time.
DOCUMENTATION: I'd rate the documentation very high and much more useful now that it's online in v5.0. Online tutorials outline changes from previous releases, and there's a Web- based training product that replaces time-consuming classroom instruction.
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