REVIEWER: Christy Hemker, data warehouse project manager for Viking Group.

BACKGROUND: Viking Group is an internationally recognized and respected leader in the manufacture and distribution of fire protection equipment. Viking's manufacturing facility is located in Hastings, Michigan. Distribution facilities are located in 20 U.S. cities and more than 50 locations worldwide to provide Viking equipment and related products to the fire sprinkler industry.

PLATFORMS: Graphical Performance Series (GPS), a business intelligence and online analytical reporting tool, is integrated with our global ERP software, which runs on an IBM AS/400. Our data warehouse resides on a second AS/400. The GPS setup also consists of several client modules running on IBM compatible PCs and a deployment server running Windows NT.

PROBLEM SOLVED: With most of our manufacturing and distribution companies operating on a single, integrated ERP environment, the need to retrieve information from the volume of transactional data became a priority. All aspects of the business were struggling with the difficulty of extracting information to support strategic, operational planning and process improvement objectives of the companies. Our objective was to provide business analysis tools and reporting by transforming raw data into consistent and easy to understand information.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Our project approach is to implement the GPS data warehouse solution in phases. We began with an implementation of the sales module. The GPS provides a full client that is fairly intuitive to create cubes. This allows business "power" users, rather than strictly IT personnel, to build data cubes according to their requirements. The cubes can then be set up on a deployment server that processes and e-mails cubes on a daily, weekly or monthly schedule. We use this feature extensively to e-mail cubes to our remote sales associates. It allows them to receive their e-mail when connected to our network, but perform ad hoc analysis without dialing in. The online analytical processing (OLAP) inherent in the standard user client is very powerful, yet very easy to use. We now have sales reports that allow the users to look at the information in a variety of ways and easily drill down from summary information to detail. GPS also provides a method of comparing the current year's figures to the previous year, which greatly aids in trend analysis. Business analysis that would previously have taken a week to run different reports and sift through the data can now take place in minutes using our standard sales cubes. We are now in the process of phase two of our project ­ implementing the inventory and purchasing module. The data verification for the inventory module is complete. We are currently verifying the purchasing data.

STRENGTHS: GPS provides an OLAP analytic tool for the standard user that contains very powerful functionality, yet remains very easy to use and learn. Most users only require a quick overview to get started with the basic features. Also, GPS provided "out of the box" integration with our ERP software. The mapping of information to the data warehouse is very well executed. This allows for a much quicker implementation and ROI for the product. This also helps to minimize the IT resources required to implement the solution.

WEAKNESSES: Creating cubes in the cube- building interface can take a great deal of PC resources, and we found that it requires a PC with additional memory and higher processor speed. It can also take a great deal of time to process large cubes.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Vanguard's GPS was selected for the thorough mapping logic and integration with our ERP Software, the functionality and ease of use in the OLAP reporting tool and the ability to deploy the cubes on an automated schedule using our current e-mail software.

DELIVERABLES: GPS has provided monthly reporting for our sales personnel and key performance indicator reports and graphs for our executive staff. We now have sales reports both in a consolidated currency and each country's home currency. In addition, the sales quantities are now being reviewed by our production planning department to help track activity and trends.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Vanguard had been very responsive to our consulting and technical needs. They are very quick to respond and thorough in follow up on reported technical issues and questions. In addition, they are one of the few vendors that include data validation in their base software support.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is very thorough and provides data mapping logic for the ERP integration. This helps greatly in data verification.

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