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LESCO Goes for the Green with Cognos Enterprise Business Intelligence Series

  • Farrukh Humayun, Chuck Neubert
  • February 01 2004, 1:00am EST
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CATEGORY: Business Performance Management

REVIEWERS: Farrukh Humayun, director of new technology, and Chuck Neubert, manager of business intelligence, for LESCO.

BACKGROUND: As the largest manufacturer and marketer of professional turfcare products and equipment in the U.S., LESCO operates the world's largest sulfur-coated urea fertilizer plant and is the second largest producer of turfgrass seed. Innovative distribution systems capitalize on convenience and service by putting product into the hands of the customer in the most efficient way possible. LESCO Service Centers, currently operating at approximately 247 locations in 38 states, offer drive-through convenience to grounds maintenance professionals.

PLATFORMS: Running on Windows 2000, Cognos is deployed on a single 4-CPU Pentium 4 IBM server.

PROBLEM SOLVED: With our old system, reporting was highly manual and time- consuming. Decision-makers did not have a single source of consistent information. In-store performance reporting of our retail operation was done with paper reports that were distributed to our regional locations. LESCO began by deploying Cognos Enterprise Business Intelligence (EBI) Series analysis and reporting to hundreds of users in our extended enterprise. Our users across sales, marketing, finance and executive management were extremely pleased with the degree of self-service reporting and analysis they were able to do with Cognos EBI Series. LESCO decided to take the investment to the next level with the addition of EBI dashboarding. Today, a BI dashboard gives key officials across the company at-a-glance insights into key performance information on sales, inventory, margin, open orders and freight movements. LESCO's sales management group can perform an in-depth market analysis to spot trends in purchasing patterns down to the individual product level. The executive team can closely plot our performance against budget and historically.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Cognos offers fully integrated dashboarding capabilities within its EBI Series, allowing us to quickly build sophisticated visual reports to communicate complex business data quickly and intuitively. Using visualizations, we were able to take the data previously housed in Cognos analysis cubes and reports, and effectively display multiple measures simultaneously across a single dashboard. With a single view of a diverse selection of maps and charts, our decision-makers are able to view several reports at once and can see how information correlates, pinpoint the variances and easily track performance. The performance of the system allows us to create a real-time information system, leveraging the real- time data in our order- entry transactional system and refreshing critical information every hour.

STRENGTHS: The key strength of the Cognos EBI Series is its high degree of flexibility. Our business is highly mobile, and Cognos gave our users the flexibility to easily access information from the road. This flexibility to give our users the information they need when they need it and in the manner they want it has ensured a high degree of user acceptance for the system even at the highest levels within the company. The visibility into our business is unprecedented.

WEAKNESSES: The dashboard is robust and performs well for our user community, but navigation can be complex because of the richness of the data and the amount of information required by users. We need to carefully plot drill through to different pages and charts on the dashboard for our users. We'd like to have even better navigation through multiple pages of the dashboard as the solution grows.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We evaluated solutions from several other vendors because of our potential move to a new back-end ERP. We found that Cognos dashboarding, reporting and analysis offered significantly more flexibility to deploy the solution to mobile users, much more in-the-box charting and more robust analysis overall.

DELIVERABLES: There are more than 65 models producing hundreds of cubes in deployment. Our salespeople are constantly hitting the sales cubes to get information on sales and margin performance against quota, as well as their monthly profit and loss statements. Given the high degree of self-service from our users, there's no telling how many reports are produced.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Cognos was responsive to our requirements and receptive to our direction for the solution. Because of our unique industry, we did quite a bit of training on our own. We have enjoyed working with Cognos and really pushing the envelope. Cognos has been highly collaborative with our team.

DOCUMENTATION: The Cognos solution is relatively intuitive. We've experienced a high rate of user acceptance, and the learning curve has been good. To be very honest, we can't remember using the documentation.

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