REVIEWER: Gary Smith, assistant manager, information systems for Michigan Millers Mutual Insurance Company.

BACKGROUND: Michigan Millers Mutual Insurance Company (MMMI) is a property and casualty insurance carrier, providing a full range of products for small businesses and individuals. MMMI is also one of the nation's largest underwriters of agribusiness insurance.

PLATFORMS: TIDAL Enterprise Scheduler is running on 13 Windows 2000 and three UNIX servers.

PROBLEM SOLVED: In 2000, MMMI implemented a data warehouse using Microsoft SQL Server 2000 with nightly ETL (extract, transform, load) from its mainframe. A report-writing tool is used to create static reports; data is compiled into cubes using Microsoft Analysis Services; and interactive reports are generated by ProClarity. These reports are used by management for decision support and for monitoring the financial and operational performance of the company. The nightly ETL process started with a few simple steps and ran harmoniously with nightly backup jobs and other server-related maintenance. Process scheduling was done using Windows 2000's OS command, and processes were dependent upon files transferred from the mainframe. MMMI used Visual Basic (VB) to look for arriving files and then start the nightly jobs. As more and more processes were required to run after hours, time and system resource conflicts became a serious hurdle that had to be overcome. Most jobs were dependent upon other jobs running and had to be scheduled several hours apart to ensure the first job completed fully before the next job started. As more jobs had to be added to the schedule, it was apparent that MMMI needed a better system for managing job and file dependencies to maximize after-hours processing time. Nightly processing was also conflicting with network backups and processes. Jobs had to be restarted due to inaccurate data loads, and user systems were being affected by heavy processes running during business hours. Both users and data were being negatively affected by the current job schedule.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: MMMI began researching possible scheduling solutions and met with several vendors for demos of their products. Only one vendor was able to meet all the requirements of MMMI's scheduling needs. TIDAL Enterprise Scheduler (TES) was chosen based on its rich features, flexible calendars, resource monitoring, job and file dependencies, and ease of use. TES requires little training and can be placed into production quickly. TES provides the ability to schedule jobs based on their dependencies with other jobs and files. Jobs also can be forced to wait for adequate system resources. E-mail notifications are sent the instant a job fails or succeeds, depending on business requirements. Conflicts between the data warehouse and networking teams are avoided; and all nightly processes easily fit into the schedule, avoiding conflict during business hours. With the implementation of TES, MMMI knows immediately if a job has failed. It is one of the best software products our company has procured since 2001. TES does exactly what was promised during the sales presentation.

STRENGTHS: TES is very flexible, has a short learning curve, runs on multiple versions of Windows and UNIX, and has a wide range of job scheduling and dependency features.

WEAKNESSES: TIDAL's pricing is higher than alternatives MMMI was considering. If products were only reviewed on price, MMMI would have chosen another product. One other weakness is error-coding the processes. Users of TES must be aware of the specific error codes their jobs return; not all processes return the default error code set up in TES.

SELECTION CRITERIA: MMMI needed a product with minimal customization that would go directly into production and not require extensive monitoring. TES didn't require any customization and was easily deployed at MMMI. TES also requires very little monitoring and problem solving the software is quick and easy. TES also offers great customer support.

DELIVERABLES: TES offers both graphical and text models to view a schedule. When a scheduling change is invoked, TES also issues a report of the revised schedule.

VENDOR SUPPORT: TIDAL's professional consultants came and installed TES on 16 servers. Within two weeks, the consultants tested the product, built a base schedule and trained all personnel. By the time they left, the job schedule was up and running and MMMI hasn't had to call support since. Plus, MMMI is adding new jobs daily.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation is easy to follow and complete enough to set up job streams without any vendor assistance.

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