CATEGORY: Business Performance Management
REVIEWER: David Klementz, SVP and CFO for Progress Rail Services Corporation.
BACKGROUND: Progress Rail is North America's largest, most diversified supplier of products and services to the railroad and rail transit industries. Customers include Class 1 railroads, shortline railroads, transit authorities, railway contractors, industrial users and federal government agencies. Services include rail and trackwork components, railcar and locomotive repair, new/reconditioned railcar and locomotive parts, rail welding, rail-flaw detection, signal devices, maintenance of way equipment manufacturing and railcar manufacturing.
PLATFORMS: The solution runs on a Dell 6600 server with dual 1.9 MHz Pentium 3 processors and 2GB of RAM. A second Dell 6600 server with dual 2.0 MHz Xeon processors and 4GB of RAM provides access for remote clients. Additionally, the solution has been installed on Dell Latitude laptops or Dell PCs (Optiplex or GX150), which have Pentium 3 or Pentium 4 processors, 20GB hard drives and 128 to 256MB of RAM.
PROBLEM SOLVED: For Progress Rail, 15 to 20 acquisitions over a five-year period resulted in multiple financial systems and data sets. We sought a solution that would provide timely and accurate financial data from one data source. We wanted confidence that all businesses were utilizing the same financial data for decisions and that decisions are based on fact not intuition.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The SAS Strategic Performance Management scorecard provides senior management with high-level views of key financial and strategic drivers from individual business units, divisions and, ultimately, facilities. The scorecard allows management to drill down and find answers to questions immediately, which facilitates more productive and timely discussions. With relevant information at hand, company managers are better equipped to analyze information and take appropriate courses of action, ultimately providing a better return for the business. Overall, SAS has enabled Progress Rail to transform from a transaction-based operation to one focused on strategy and vision, based on fact and sound data analysis.
STRENGTHS: We are now able to look at business trends on a more timely basis, comfortable that one common data source is being used for management's decision making. SAS allows us to spot facilities or units that are under- performing, which allows managers to make proactive decisions that can positively impact the bottom line. We can focus on under- performing areas to ensure a positive return for the business as a whole.
WEAKNESSES: Because the solution was designed to maximize viewing performance over a Web browser, it "publishes" results as linked XHTML pages to a Web server. While this approach requires virtually no compute power for viewing, it has two downsides. Creating printable reports requires additional customization. Also, managing the data collection and publishing process is not easily accomplished by an average business user. Therefore, we rely on our IT group to support and maintain the process.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We evaluated several products and selected SAS for its technical advantages. Specifically, we were won over by the product's ability to tap multiple data sources and bring the data into one central location, and its strong analytic capabilities, which transform that data into information to drive business decisions.
DELIVERABLES: SAS combines information from multiple, disparate systems into one information repository. Fine-tuning by SAS analytics yields one version of the truth, which serves as the basis for both strategic and operational decisions. Specifically, 34 performance measures including financial, operational, quality, customer service and sales/marketing metrics are monitored and used enterprise wide to support strategic planning at corporate, business unit and divisional levels. The solution ensures that all employees operate from the same system and set of data, delivering fast, flexible and on-demand reporting and analysis. It automatically creates scorecards, replacing manual creation via spreadsheets. Further, SAS combines tactics and strategies with financial data in a single report and provides drill-down capabilities from scorecards to detailed reports.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Our experience with SAS has been very positive. In 24 hours, we were able to view a raw version our first data set. Within one week, we fully tested the solution's capabilities within our environment at a high level. SAS rapidly understood our technical complexity and multiple systems and provided our initial scorecard in a very short time frame.
DOCUMENTATION: The customized documentation provided by SAS consultants has been extremely useful and detailed. However, the packaged documentation, while feature-rich, doesn't help users understand how to exploit or build applications in the manner we require.
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