REVIEWER: Richard Jackson, chief financial officer and Samuel Riddick, controller.

BACKGROUND: Established in 1987, Road & Rail Services has grown and diversified to become the premier outsource supplier of logistical and transportation support services. Road & Rail Services has 34 locations around the country that perform various transportation support services, with each location having unique accounting and reporting requirements. The company is rapidly expanding and the need for consolidated and standardized reporting of site activities on a daily basis is crucial to measuring site performance to facilitate decision making and create a strategic advantage within the industry.

PLATFORMS: Confluent hosts the application and data warehouse. All that's required on the client side is a compliant Internet browser and the Confluent-supplied Java-based GUI application.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Operations and accounting relied on the utilization of spreadsheets to facilitate centralized accounting and the reporting of key performance indicators (KPIs). As the company continued to grow, the use of spreadsheets for reporting mission critical data created inefficiencies: calculation errors, lack of a centralized repository, and limited capabilities for roll-up and querying of data. Senior management created a strategic MIS blueprint that provided the road map for decentralizing back-office activities and KPI metrics for the company's management incentive compensation plan. Upon completion of the MIS blueprint, management decided on the utilization of the ASP model to host both the applications and business intelligence reporting tool. A lengthy vendor review process led to our selection of Confluent Technologies as our partner to aggregate data from our human resources and accounting information systems onto the ConfluentIQ platform. With the easy-to-use ConfluentIQ application, management now has real- time performance metrics on their desktop from any place that has Internet access.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: ConfluentIQ provides a visual way for management to monitor performance for all levels of the company: corporate, profit centers, worksites and departments. The user interface is point-and- click, even with its OLAP and filter capabilities. Graphs are literally generated on the fly and have clickthrough capabilities. Once filtered, a user can easily export the data into Excel for further analysis.

STRENGTHS: Along with the ConfluentIQ tool, great value has been gained through Confluent's ability to bridge our current systems with a centralized repository that collects payroll and billing data on a daily basis. This has allowed managers to view KPIs across multiple platforms and permits us to download information directly into our financial information systems. For example, management can utilize ConfluentIQ to review labor utilization and revenue driver statistics for each of our specific locations.

WEAKNESSES: A "what if" capability would fully round out the ConfluentIQ application with querying ability on each dimension within the KPI Views. Limitations of dial-up accounts with our current ISP at remote locations have created problems accessing information quickly and the company is reviewing alternative "broadband" technologies to increase speed. There are limited printing options within the application itself, though you can cut and paste charts into PowerPoint or Word documents.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Confluent and Road & Rail committed all levels of company management to facilitate project management and implementation in an ongoing services model which allowed us to build these capabilities with a low up-front investment as well as retain their ongoing expertise as we invest in new business capabilities.

DELIVERABLES: ConfluentIQ allows users, from their desktop or anywhere an Internet connection is available, to ask and answer questions quickly and efficiently with filtering and re-categorization capabilities. Specifically, we have created a platform for each of our managers to track their KPIs. The multidimensional analysis also allows users to export their query into Excel for further analysis and review. ConfluentIQ is available to management across 17 states and 34 cities.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The project team, led by Confluent vice president Mike Hammer, worked closely with Road & Rail's project manager to provide a quick turnaround on our implementation. They continue (in their services role) to provide frank and competent feedback as we build on our KPIs and business intelligence platform.

DOCUMENTATION: ConfluentIQ is user-friendly and intuitive for our management personnel. A users' manual is being developed which acts more as a reminder for how to quickly re-categorize data to "ask and answer" company questions.

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