BACKGROUND: With deregulation in the energy field, many regional utilities are rapidly diversifying their core businesses. Energen Corp. has transitioned from its origins as a regional natural gas utility, serving over 30 percent of all Alabama households, to new business sectors such as petroleum exploration.

PLATFORMS: Heterogeneous environment featuring IBM S/390, HP-UX and Windows NT platforms, running a mix of packaged and internally developed accounting, payroll, customer order processing and data warehouse applications.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Because of the power of recent NT and UNIX servers, many new applications ­ from specialty applications for petroleum exploration and gas transportation management to payroll and departmental accounting ­ are being deployed on these platforms. For instance, while we plan to continue running our core accounting and financial applications within the CICS mainframe environment, we are adding numerous NT- and UNIX-based applications such as gas pipeline transportation services. However, these new applications often rely on the same mainframe-based customer data that feeds our legacy applications. In the long run, we hope to install an infrastructure allowing distributed data access from any application server. In the interim, we required middleware that would replicate data onto local servers. We chose Information Builders' SmartMart Copy Manager as our bridge to tomorrow's distributed data access architecture.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: As SmartMart's extraction, transformation and transport (ETT) tool, Copy Manager transforms, cleanses and moves data between virtually every enterprise database and operating platform, client/server and mainframe platform alike. It uses Information Builders' EDA middleware to access relational and non-relational data on more than 35 platforms. Using an easy-to-use visual interface and built-in scheduling facilities, SmartMart Copy Manager allows data migration to occur during off-peak hours when it won't consume precious bandwidth or computing cycles.

STRENGTHS: Copy Manager's biggest strength is that it can copy data between virtually all of our platforms. For instance, we often copy data to and from DB2, VSAM and Oracle databases. The master files look the same, regardless of platform, while the task of moving data itself is extremely easy, thanks to the visual interface.

WEAKNESSES: SmartMart Copy Manager lacks the rich meta data offered by some rival tools. Its meta data only describes data structures and does not currently allow additional documentation regarding data characteristics, sources and quality level. Information Builders says that it will soon rectify this.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We chose SmartMart Copy Manager because it was simpler to use than our previous legacy data migration tools, which required extensive raw coding and the need to invoke FTP routines. We also found that it was far more open compared to Oracle's native tools.

DELIVERABLES: We have recently built Oracle-based data warehouses and have found that Copy Manager has significantly simplified the process of loading data from legacy systems. We are also loading legacy data to and from NaVision, our new NT-based customer order system. While some "post-processing" was necessary to handle Packed Decimal and Zoned Decimal transformations, Information Builders provided the needed subroutines, which were quite simple to invoke. Our biggest savings have come from Copy Manager's ability to automatically transform data to the target database structure and format. Our developers no longer have to waste time writing conversions. They simply show Copy Manager where to get the data, how to transform it and where to load it. Copy Manager performs the rest.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Information Builders has always answered our calls promptly. If the problem required more than level-one support, we always were put in touch with a developer.

DOCUMENTATION: Our SmartMart and EDA manuals seem to require an entire bookcase. We found the CD-ROMs to be far more usable. They provide most of the information we need and are fully searchable.

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