CATEGORY: Data Acquisition, Transformation & Replication

REVIEWER: Douglas A. Cheney, director of enterprise data management for Staples Inc.

BACKGROUND: Staples, Inc. is an $11 billion retailer of office supplies, business services, furniture and technology to consumers and businesses from home-based businesses to Fortune 500 companies worldwide. Headquartered outside Boston, Staples invented the office superstore concept and today is the largest operator of office superstores in the world. The company has over 50,000 employees serving customers through more than 1,300 office superstores, mail order catalogs, e- commerce and a contract business.

PLATFORM: Informatica PowerCenter is currently running on IBM AIX on an IBM RS6000SP.

PROBLEM SOLVED:Informatica PowerCenter replaced an obsolete legacy system, which delivered a limited view of some of Staples' many different business units to decision-makers across the company. Informatica PowerCenter soon became an integral part of Staples' enterprise data warehouse project, consolidating data silos to deliver both vertical and horizontal views across Staples' business units. Staples relies on Informatica PowerCenter to consolidate disparate sources of data from across the company in order to gain consistent definitions and measurements and to increase the ease of use for Staples' associates in areas including finance, inventory management, merchandising, store operations, pricing and planning. Using Informatica's meta data capabilities, data is sourced from many systems (i.e., point-of-sale, order entry, inventory management, replenishment, advertising and space management) along with the data definitions critical to having a complete understanding of the data.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Informatica PowerCenter works efficiently and effectively to consolidate meta data and enterprise data. In addition to the data warehouse currently in production, Staples is building a second system based on the Informatica platform. This merchandise planning system will pull data from the enterprise data warehouse via Informatica PowerCenter.

STRENGTHS: One of the strongest features of Informatica PowerCenter is its meta data capabilities. Using Informatica PowerCenter, Staples' IT staff can graphically map and code data transformations from a common set of meta data.

WEAKNESSES: Containing billions of records, Staples' 3.5TB enterprise data warehouse needed to load data faster. Staples added OptiLoad, a high-speed parallel loader tool, to better complement the parallel processing functionality of the IBM RS6000SP, which resulted in faster results.

SELECTION CRITERIA: To choose an enterprise data integration platform, Staples engaged an independent consultant for a blind analysis. The consultant identified three vendors. After analyzing these candidates, Staples chose Informatica primarily because of its top marks in meta data-driven data integration processes. Staples' own independent evaluation also verified that Informatica was the best fit available at the time of selection.

DELIVERABLES: Informatica PowerCenter delivers a comprehensive data integration platform for Staples, which is used for three purposes. First, Informatica PowerCenter manages and transforms data from the legacy systems into the data warehouse at the heart of Staples' hub-and-spoke architecture. Second, Informatica PowerCenter manages and transforms data from the enterprise data warehouse into data marts, enabling customized perspectives of the data as required by the business users of the data marts. Third, Informatica PowerCenter is used to manage the return of data from specialized data marts back to the enterprise data warehouse or to other data marts.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Informatica did a good job supporting its product. Staples' IT team worked side-by-side with the Informatica team, sharing its expertise in VLDB work with the Informatica team. This effort in mutual skills development was very important as Informatica geared up its team at Staples. In fact, our collaboration hasn't ended. Even now, Staples is part of Informatica's VLDB advisory board. The best part of working with the Informatica team was their willingness to listen to us.

DOCUMENTATION: The best documentation of the ETL process flows developed in Informatica PowerCenter is available only through the online use of PowerCenter. Getting process flow documentation reports out of the meta data repository is somewhat difficult.

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