BACKGROUND: Combe, Inc. of White Plains, New York, develops and markets some of the most widely used family care and pet products in the world such as Odor Eaters, Lanacane and Just for Men hair products.

PLATFORMS: Combe is running the Pilot Decision Support Suite (PDSS) under Windows NT.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Getting sales data to the field sales force was a real challenge. A standard hard-copy sales report sent to the field was outdated by the time it might be used. We often found ourselves walking into a buyer's office with the retailer having more information about its buying patterns than we did. At a time when buyers are more carefully managing inventories, not having this critical information readily available was a real handicap. Our company needed to track routine statistics on customers, products, orders and sales as well as changes in those numbers year over year. Retailers wanted to know what they had purchased historically in order to manage their inventories better, and we wanted to be better able to track new product introductions.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Pilot's Web-based and client/server business intelligence solutions deliver improved decision making to our organization. Pilot applications provide significant value right out of the box, and the company's enabling platform ensures these applications can be further tailored to our requirements quickly and efficiently. As a result of using the system, marketing and sales are now on the same page, access the same data and know who is driving business.

STRENGTHS: Time-Series Analysis ­ Time-series analysis is very important to us since we want to be able to track year-over-year changes in customer buying patterns. PDSS gives us the ability to pose "what-if" questions on large data sets and obtain detailed information by region, time, product and other categories. Web Functionality ­ The whole downloading process has recently been replaced with a Web application based on the Pilot Internet Publisher. The introduction of Pilot Internet Explorer has eliminated the need for data synchronization and download, and researching information is simply a matter of getting to the Web site. Ad Hoc Reports ­ With PDSS, it is very easy to tailor reports to meet our requirements; other applications have "canned" reports that are not as customizable. We like having the ability to slice data anyway we choose to analyze our information.

WEAKNESSES: The multiple hierarchy function does not allow for directed sorting in the second hierarchy. The product would benefit if it allowed users to specify the sort criteria for the second hierarchy.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We chose Pilot Software Decision Support Suite primarily for its ability to perform time-series analysis. In addition to helping sales reps understand the buying patterns of their customers, time- series analysis offers other benefits. It also helps our retailers manage inventory better; and since they try to carry less inventory, it is very important that both of us have an accurate picture of what is in stock. This also helps us plan factory production. In addition, we use time-series analysis to track the acceptance of new products. We can tell fairly quickly who orders a new product and, more importantly, who re-orders it. We also chose Pilot because it offers the best support. The company has a deep understanding of business applications, not just the technology.

DELIVERABLES: The system had to be easy to use so that sales people could feel comfortable performing their daily downloads as well as working with their customers in front of a laptop. The Pilot system proved up to the task. Today when sales reps find themselves at the negotiating table with purchasing agents, they are able to perform ad hoc queries against their data to backup or illustrate a point.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Pilot has provided strategic consulting, development and product training to assist our organization in implementing our applications. The staff is very well versed on the product and is very interested in keeping their customers satisfied. Pre- and post-implementation support has been excellent.

DOCUMENTATION: Overall, the documentation is complete. There is also online help that is very good and comprehensive.

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