What do we expect from our data warehouse? Well, to put it bluntly, we expect a multi-million dollar inventory reduction in our supply chain pipeline. Our warehouse will significantly recoup its cost in what we're able to do. A wholly owned subsidiary of Sears, Western Auto is the parent company of Parts America, a chain of 640 auto parts retail stores organized into 71 business districts across the United States. That gives us a major information management challenge. In addition to the sheer volume of data we handle, auto parts suppliers face a peculiar problem. Parts America's inventory lists more than 18,300 items, but any given store may stock 45 percent of those parts in quantities of one. Because of the large number of vehicle models from different years, it is not possible to stock several of each part in each outlet. If a customer needs a starter motor for a 1986 Fuego, he wants it now! If we don't have it, we lose the sale. A store may sell just one of those units in eighteen months--but it has to be there.

To complicate things, vehicle models and associated problems differ by region. In our business, understanding how those SKUs behave drives the value of a data warehouse. We used to be a mainframe shop, a legacy, batch-oriented retail systems group. Three years ago we began implementing a midrange platform solution for merchandise management, JDA's IMMS system running on an IBM AS/400. One component we wanted last year was an executive information system. We liked what we saw with JDA's Retail IDEAS (Interactive Decision Evaluation Action Support), a data warehouse developed in partnership with Silvon Software.

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