REVIEWER: Meg Hulme, director of IT Application Development and e-commerce at BlueLinx.

BACKGROUND: Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, BlueLinx Corporation is a leading distributor of building products in North America. The company was originally the distribution arm of Georgia-Pacific, but in 2004, it was spun off and purchased by Cerberus Capital Management and a team of senior leaders from the former division. BlueLinx offers more than 10,000 products and 70,000 SKUs from more than 750 suppliers to service approximately 11,500 customers nationwide.

PLATFORMS: We are currently running Stibo Systems STEP 4.8 on the Oracle 10g database and on Windows 2007 Server. The application server stack is running on IBM WebSphere. We’re using the STEP Java client for both PC and our handful of Mac users.

PROBLEM SOLVED: During our acquisition in 2004, we were able to bring over most of the legacy systems we had been using for years at Georgia-Pacific. However, some of these systems had not been updated for more than a decade, and because regional product databases had been merged over the years, we found ourselves with a significant amount of duplicate or obsolete product data. Also, these systems were challenged by the breadth and complexity of our product lines. We needed an MDM platform that would help position us for continued growth and would enable us to create a central source of product information in order to better serve our customers and suppliers.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: STEP’s built-in workflow tool has been instrumental in allowing us to establish improved data governance through its ability to manage the number of individuals requiring permission to modify product information and attributes. The result has been cleaner and more accurate data, faster and more accurate search results, and better, more usable information. Also, thanks to STEP and Stibo Systems’ publishing tools, we can now easily publish digital catalogs and customized marketing collateral for customers, both of which have become competitive differentiators for us.  Finally, e-commerce is one of our big strategic initiatives for 2011. Having STEP in place as our foundational product data platform has been key to moving forward with our online efforts and has enabled us to set the stage for our future e-commerce efforts and our expanded sales channel plans.

STRENGTHS: STEP proved to be a robust yet flexible MDM platform with strong publishing functionality. We needed a platform that would allow for multiple hierarchies and the flexibility to use different hierarchy levels depending on the specific product, its category and where it was sold. STEP was clearly the best of the systems we reviewed. Also, since implementing STEP, we have discovered that it can also be used to better manage other types of master data – including customer and supplier data. This versatility has allowed us to gain additional value from our initial investment.

WEAKNESSES: There are some minor weaknesses in STEP 4.8. However, most of these will be addressed in our upgrade to STEP 5.2. For instance, some of the user interfaces for the business users weren’t as intuitive as they could have been. Also, 4.8 didn’t have an auto pagination feature to auto-build our marketing materials, which is now part of 5.2.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The flexibility of the data model was a primary selection criterion for any MDM solution. STEP’s ability to support multiple hierarchies and the flexibility to use different hierarchy levels depending on the specific product, category and location were critical. STEP scored very well in this area, which ultimately led to its selection.

DELIVERABLES: The first thing STEP did was to consolidate our source data into one location, which was a huge deliverable for us. STEP provided us with a data governance platform, and it drove some of the important print marketing initiatives mentioned earlier. Furthermore, as the source of master data, STEP feeds all of our transactional business systems. It’s also the foundation we needed to launch e-commerce this year.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Stibo’s support is excellent, and it has been that way from day one. They’re always easy to reach, and they’re extremely responsive. And, because of their global coverage, we often have better and faster resolution than we get from other vendors. The people and the personal relationships we’ve developed are the best parts of working with Stibo. Stibo’s operating structure seems to be much flatter than it is in most other enterprise software companies. That means I can usually access anyone and won’t be passed around from person to person. Their people really do care about helping customers. In fact, we view Stibo as a true partner in helping us solve our business needs and challenges – both from a business process and a technology standpoint.

DOCUMENTATION: Their documentation is excellent. In fact, our in-house developer has often commented on how easy their application programming interface was to use, based upon their documentation. If and when we run into any questions or need clarification, we never have problems reaching someone who can help us.

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