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Olan Mills Improves Decision Making with CrossAccess

Published
  • April 01 1998, 1:00am EST

PLATFORMS: Olan Mills' current software/hardware configurations include VSE/ESA on an IBM 9021-520, AIX on nine different RISC6000s, a Novell and Windows NT network, print and application servers, and thousands of PCs running Windows and various UNIX operating systems.

BACKGROUND: Olan Mills is the world's leading producer of family portraits, capturing more than 40 million images on film each year. With the help of more than 15,000 employees, Olan Mills provides portraits to schools, churches, businesses and families through 830 studios in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. The company has been privately owned since its founding in 1932.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Olan Mills was looking for an easy way to provide data for operational analysis and corporate decision making, such as pricing, studio hours of operation, customer service follow-up and effectiveness of advertising/marketing programs. Olan Mills also needed an easy and effective method to demystify access to corporate data without involving technical staff and to run analyses against retrieved customer and order data. With CrossAccess for VSE/ESA, the marketing staff can query data from various hosts, download the data to individual PCs, and analyze 10,000 to 18,000 customer records per day. With this current daily information, it's easy to track trends and improve decision making. CrossAccess for VSE/ESA is high-performance data access middleware that provides direct desktop access to both relational and non-relational data structures on most mainframe and UNIX platforms. CrossAccess for VSE accesses data residing in VSAM, DL/I, sequential and other VSE data sources.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Olan Mills currently retrieves data from VSE/ESA VSAM files using the Microsoft Query facility. CrossAccess logically relates multiple VSAM files and produces a hybrid file that is transported to the PC. The hybrid file is then imported into EXCEL as an analysis tool. The file can be imported to any ODBC-compliant data structure.

STRENGTHS: Ease of installation and exceptional performance are definite strong points. The simplified data mapping facility of CrossAccess makes implementation very easy and straightforward, much like a cut/paste Windows operation.

WEAKNESSES: There are no imbedded scheduling/automation facilities.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Other products were reviewed, but CrossAccess for VSE/ESA was chosen because of its speed in accessing data and installation ease. Product performance is noticeably better than the competitive products Olan Mills tested, and the product installation was easier than those competitive products.

In testing, CrossAccess performed twice as fast as other products.

DELIVERABLES: Through queries, the CrossAccess data access middleware enables the company to review information about which photo packages sell most frequently and in which regions of the country. This, in turn, helps managers target advertising messages to the appropriate audience segment. For the first time, end users are able to access VSE mainframe data stores. Before CrossAccess, developers were dedicated to extracting VSE data for reporting and loading to user accessible databases. Those resources are now free to work on critical applications.

VENDOR SUPPORT: CROSS ACCESS support has been excellent, with timely fixes and exceptional technical abilities. Responsiveness to product suggestions has been excellent.

DOCUMENTATION: The CrossAccess documentation is very good, better than most, but still occasionally confuses users.

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