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Mining for Data Without the Sweat

Published
  • July 01 2005, 1:00am EDT

NoetixViewsREVIEWER: Jim Tiscornia, director MIS for Alpha Natural Resources.

BACKGROUND: Alpha Natural Resources is a leading producer of high-quality Appalachian coal. Approximately 94 percent of Alpha's reserve base is high Btu coal, and 89 percent is low sulfur - qualities that are in high demand among electric utilities which use steam coal. Alpha is also one of the nation's largest producers and exporters of metallurgical coal, a key ingredient in steel manufacturing. Alpha currently operates 64 mines and 11 coal preparation and blending plants in four states.

PLATFORMS: Oracle and Microsoft.

PROBLEM SOLVED: The operations staff at Alpha's four mining companies located in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky was having difficulty accessing data and running ad hoc reports from the disparate databases used to manage the business. The way in which reports were written in Oracle Applications was complicated, and we needed to rely on specialized consultants to build them against the tables in the database. As a result, the current reporting solution, Oracle Discoverer, was barely being used because of the amount of training, ramp up and IT help required to access the complex data our business and super users needed. After looking at some of the other business intelligence reporting solutions and determining that the path these tools take to talk to disparate databases was still an arduous one, Alpha representatives went to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, a current Noetix customer, and used it as a benchmark for the types of reporting from Oracle Applications we were striving toward. We discovered a single, easy-to-use reporting solution that could seamlessly combine data from multiple databases without needing to rely on IT resources.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: A high priority for Alpha was bringing real value to our users. In January 2005, we implemented Noetix, and in less than three weeks we had the product and our users up and running. Noetix required very little training and allowed the mine operating staff to standardize on one tool. Our users now have the freedom to move from one mine operating company to another without needing to be retrained on a new reporting tool. Using the ability of Noetix to query custom Oracle reports in Excel, we have been able to put several simple and fast purchasing, accounts payable and cost reports into the hands of our users that can be run and refreshed from their desktops without the need to access Oracle or Noetix.

STRENGTHS: Noetix has given our operating staff control over and access to their financial data that's been hidden away in Alpha's Oracle Applications. There are three main groups currently using Noetix to view the critical data needed to effectively manage the business: purchasing, the financial analysts at each mine company and corporate human resources. With Noetix, Alpha now has a much broader user base. Noetix has significantly reduced the time our mine staff spent on getting to the data they needed. We estimate we're saving at least one hour per day of information gathering. There are approximately 60 people using Noetix to create and manipulate reports, and we are currently in the process of rolling this out to other units.

WEAKNESSES: From the Oracle side, it's difficult. Queries tend to run a long time, and some Noetix HR views can get stuck. However, Noetix has worked with us on a solution for this issue.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We looked at some other business intelligence products such as Business Objects, but mapping to the data in the disparate databases was too time-consuming.

DELIVERABLES: Noetix is used primarily for reporting by our operations staff at our four different mine companies. Noetix allows managers to view in real time where the money is being spent and whether or not there is a loss so they can adjust accordingly.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Noetix's services and support have been readily available. Before Noetix, we struggled with Oracle reporting. Noetix has made this easier than we ever thought it could be.

DOCUMENTATION: The training and documentation created the initial spark. We realized early on that you didn't need a background in IT to run this product.


NoetixViews
Noetix Corp.
2229 112th Ave. NE
Bellevue, WA 98004
425-372-2699
www.noetix.com


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