CATEGORY: BI Tools

REVIEWER: Art Lorenz, director of planning and analysis for Hunter Douglas Inc.

BACKGROUND: With 136 companies, 57 manufacturing plants and 79 assembly plants, Hunter Douglas is a $1.4 billion leader in window coverings and architectural products. We market our products in 80 countries around the world.

PLATFORMS: Cognos Finance and Cognos PowerPlay run on Windows NT.

PROBLEM SOLVED: In North America, we have seen tremendous growth, both through acquisitions and new products; and we now generate more than $700 million in annual U.S. sales. As we grew and became more successful, our budgeting process became more and more difficult. We primarily used spreadsheets to prepare budgets and business plans. Three times yearly, each division (more than 20 across North America) would submit a hard-copy report for consolidation. Corporate staffers and consultants would then spend days rekeying and consolidating the information into spreadsheets for meetings. This manual process meant dealing with different report configurations and versions of the spreadsheet software. It was time-consuming, costly and error prone. By the time we reviewed the reports, the information was 45 days old. If we wanted to see more detail about a variance at the consolidated level, we had to go back to the spreadsheets or look at printouts. In addition, outside consultants managing the process were costing us $200,000 a year and posed confidentiality issues. We needed to streamline the process so we could spend our time analyzing ­ not preparing ­ the information.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Cognos Finance has had a tremendous impact on our analysis and reporting processes and has cut the time to prepare for our business-review meetings from three weeks to a few hours. With Cognos, it is also much easier for our users to go back and make changes and prepare custom reports. Today, Hunter Douglas users can contribute budget input at their own locations using a single common template. Our corporate finance professionals can consolidate the business plan contributions from all locations and cost centers into several different reporting hierarchies.

STRENGTHS: We feel the main strengths of Cognos business intelligence are its ease of use, flexibility and ability to provide a unified view of our financial information.

WEAKNESSES: We have not used Cognos for budgeting and forecasting our local-level operations. With dramatically increased robustness in the budgeting and forecasting capabilities, we will begin using Cognos Finance 5.0 to provide the robustness needed to completely consolidate our local-level financial information.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We considered solutions from other vendors, but we found that they were very expensive and too complicated for our users. Cognos provided the ease of use and flexibility that we needed.

DELIVERABLES: The most important measure of our business success is the profitability of the thousands of different products that we market. Using Cognos, we track product profitability by several dimensions such as fabricator, salesman or region; and we track margin per unit in percentage and dollars. We also use Cognos Finance to obtain an accurate picture of our whole distribution chain. We can see budget, actuals and prior year comparisons and run variance analyses across all of our divisions including manufacturing, fabrication and sales. We can drill down to find the areas that need our attention. That simply wasn't possible before we implemented Cognos' solution. We use Cognos PowerPlay to better understand our sales figures and quickly and easily identify trends, gain new insights and find quick solutions to our management challenges. Using Cognos, we pull from our SAP system to analyze gross sales, deductions, freight, net sales by dollar and units, average selling price, margins and cost of sales. Currently, we conduct this analysis for each manufacturing site, but we plan to expand across the company in the near future.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Cognos provided excellent pre- and post-sales support. We are very happy with the level of support and value that Cognos has provided to our organization.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is very complete and easy to understand.

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