Sony Electronics Inc., a subsidiary of Sony Corporation, is involved in developing, designing, manufacturing and selling electronic devices for U.S. consumer and professional markets.

Sony's mainframe systems store information on more than 11,000 types of products in more than 25 physical warehouses. Sony's data warehouse extracts data from legacy systems into an Oracle database running on an IBM SP II midrange computer. Business Objects creates ad hoc reports for client/server users, and a Web-based reporting system was developed with Oracle's WebServer and Information Builders' WebFOCUS. The data warehouse currently has more than 200 gigabytes of data and is used by 1,500 users over the Web (from the United States, Europe and Japan) and 250 U.S. users with client/server software.

Sony Electronics maintains millions of dollars in inventory at any given time in its U.S. warehouses, but only monthly or quarterly reports were available. The available reports often lacked detail or had too much detail and did not sort, summarize or roll up the data in useful ways. Users spent a large part of their time accessing data and massaging it to extract the information, rather than making business decisions.

We built the initial version of our data warehouse by developing the programs to extract, transform and load mainframe data into the Oracle database on a daily basis. We used Business Objects to allow end users to create ad hoc reports from that data with minimal assistance from MIS staff.

The very positive reaction to this application prompted us to consider how we could make these reports available to many others in the company. We decided to create an intranet site that contained standard reports accessible to anyone with a Web browser. WebFOCUS and Oracle WebServer were the key technologies; and when this phase of the project was completed, we had a system that brought point-and-click business intelligence to all users in the company.

The data warehouse began as a small "nice-to-have" project, developed almost entirely with internal IT resources and with only nominal investment in additional hardware and software. Three staff members worked full-time and four worked part-time over eight months to create the first data warehouse in April1998. The total cost for the project was less than $500,000.

Within 12 months, the data warehouse became a "must-have" resource and a model for managing corporate information. Use of Web-based reports has become the primary and preferred method for accessing information across a broad range of business units. The system has been expanded to include sales, orders, customer, product, procurement, human resources, financial and service data. Users now spend time analyzing the data they have found, while in the past they spent most of their time finding the data they needed to analyze.

Although a formal return on investment was not computed, reports from users indicate that the savings are widespread and the benefits occur throughout the company. One of our corporate controllers estimates that the control we gained over our inventory as a result of this project has already brought benefits in the millions of dollars.

Other well-defined benefits include:

  • Savings of $200,000 a year because entire containers can be shipped to customers without being unloaded on the docks.
  • Significantly improved ability to track products that are in transit, on loan or out as demo units.
  • Tracking of service turnaround time, leading to better information about service costs.
  • Identification of Sony's top customers, who were difficult to identify in the past because data about customers was not easily available across business groups.
  • Human resources users now have access to up-to-date information.
  • Accounts receivable data is now more current, detailed and comprehensive, allowing us to act on delinquent accounts more rapidly and with better information.

Lessons

One of the most striking lessons from our data warehousing project was that we could efficiently blend older technologies (such as mainframe databases, COBOL and FOCUS languages) with modern tools (such as UNIX midrange computers running Oracle databases and browser and server technology developed for the Web).

With the mix of skills on our team, we focused on cross-training and skills-sharing so that they could work together. They created a highly intuitive and effective information delivery system.

Because of budget constraints, we could not rely heavily on consultants, but had to forge our way through some of the tougher technical issues ourselves. Aside from saving money, we gained a much better understanding of the process; and we have the ability to fix and enhance it without relying on outside consultants.

We avoided complex, special purpose tools and tried to use simple, flexible software which can easily be used for other purposes in the company.

Finally, the project took a team that could keep its eye on the ultimate goal ­ transparent access to critical information that users wanted, when they wanted it ­ while convincing individual departments that their needs would be met. The result was little short of a revolution, and departments now have an arsenal of tools to make Sony Electronics successful and profitable.

Information Builders helps organizations grow their business through the power of information. Its i-business software solutions combine data integration and business intelligence, giving people the ability to access any data, turn it into valuable information and deliver it over the Internet on demand. Information Builders' WebFOCUS business intelligence software transforms data into real-time information and delivers it in any format, to any audience.

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