CATEGORY: Data Integration
REVIEWER: Jim Shelton, director of information systems for Global Companies LLC.
BACKGROUND: Global Companies LLC is a $3.5 billion oil and gas distribution company based in Waltham, Massachusetts. Global buys fuel oil on the spot market and resells to local distributors throughout the Northeast. Its supply coordinators compare inventory information from eight storage terminals with New York Mercantile Exchange pricing data to make decisions about hedge purchases to manage the company's pricing margin risk. Because the market can be very volatile it changes hourly it is important for the traders to have current information regarding product inventory. This includes the requirement to know how much product has been lifted from each terminal during the day. This information is stored at several terminal locations on different hardware and database platforms. The sales force needed this information, as well as customer profitability information, to make good decisions about pricing.
PLATFORMS: DB2, SQL Server and Oracle on Windows NT; Oracle on Sun Solaris; and DMSII on Unisys NX5620.
PROBLEM SOLVED: Global's supply coordinators were calling each terminal several times per day to get current lifting information, taking up time they could have used making trades. The sales group was basing product prices on reports that were sometimes several days old. These problems were solved in two phases. First, we built a data mart to compile sales and inventory data that would give us customer profitability and inventory information that was current as of the close of the previous business day. We presented this information to our sales team via a Web-based reporting portal. This approach allowed our sales team to retrieve the information they needed in seconds to make pricing decisions. In the second phase, we added real-time, native data access and integration with our oil terminals to provide a unified, up-to-the-minute picture of inventory via the same Web-based reporting portal.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Decision Support's DQpowersuite provides us with real-time data access to all our database platforms. Using the DQtransform ETL tool, we have scheduled extracts into our data mart that run on a nightly basis and report to us when something does not go right. The reporting interface provided by DQvista allows our users to customize their reports and analyses without having to learn a reporting tool. Now, Global's traders run bill of lading (BOL) reports that receive near real-time data via the DQbroker data integration tool from the various terminals throughout the day to guide their decisions about hedge purchases, which has reduced Global's margin risk. Using a combination of the BOL reports and profitability information allows our sales force to confidently set pricing more competitively, which has resulted in more sales at improved profitability.
STRENGTHS: Flexibility is the main strength of the product suite. By that, I mean the ability to collect data from essentially any data source. We have been able to flawlessly move to new data sources in days instead of weeks and months. It speeds up implementation of new projects that need integrated data.
WEAKNESSES: It took some time for Decision Support to understand what we do from a business perspective. However, they took the time to learn our business. Now I can call and describe what I want to do with something very specific to how we work, and they know immediately how to address our business problems.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We looked at CA's Forest and Trees for reporting, but it required us to stage all our data into a data warehouse. They didn't have the real-time data integration and reporting that we needed.
DELIVERABLES: We produce both paper and Web reports of information from disparate data sources, in real time and from the data mart. We use their capability to create XML documents and e-mail reports. We also extract data into Excel and into other formats that we access programmatically.
VENDOR SUPPORT: One of the things I evaluate other than just the tech support is the attention we get throughout the organization. Everyone we deal with at Decision Support, even the person who answers the phone, treats us as if our problem is their problem, and it is obvious they are going to do everything they can to help us solve it.
DOCUMENTATION: The documentation could probably be better, but I don't think I have ever needed to read it.
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