REVIEWER: Marty Wehrle, senior vice president and CIO for Levy Home Entertainment.

BACKGROUND: Levy Home Entertainment is the nation’s premier distributor of paperback and hardcover books to America’s finest retailers. With more than $600 million in annual sales, Levy provides books and services to Target, Meijer, BJ’s Warehouse Clubs, Wal-Mart, Toys ’R Us and other national retailers.

PLATFORMS: Levy depends on a diverse set of IBM AS/400-based business applications for order management, inventory management, warehouse management, finance, human resources, payroll and other critical business functions. The BI system extracts information from the operational databases and creates Microsoft SQL Server databases as staging places for generating reports for various domains, including sales and marketing, finance, inventory and warehouse management. Using this architecture, Levy produced six BI dashboards in six months – three with help from Information Builders Consulting and three internally.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Levy manages the middle of the literary supply chain, including warehousing, packing, shipping and in-store merchandising. Until recently, however, our custom-built information systems were making it difficult to quickly access data and develop ad hoc reports. Like so many companies today, we had people walking into meetings with sales numbers from the same time period that didn’t match. We used Information Builders WebFOCUS to build a self-service reporting environment that has increased transparency, efficiency and cost savings throughout the organization. The new BI environment is currently delivering information throughout Levy’s diverse organization. With intuitive dashboards and easy-to-use reports at their fingertips, our managers are cutting supply chain costs, tightening up inefficiencies and providing enhanced services to national retailers.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: WebFOCUS makes user reporting a reality. With its guided ad hoc technology, users can rapidly create custom reports quite easily. They can choose columns, sort criteria, measures and output formats to generate their own personal reports. Additionally, simple menu selections enable repeat delivery via email in Excel, PDF, HTML, Word or as an Active Report, which allow for offline analysis. A single guided ad hoc reporting template can generate thousands of different reports to meet the requirements of many users, from executives to frontline workers. Additionally, through the WebFOCUS Managed Reporting Portal, users can organize and navigate through guided ad hoc reports, dashboards and archive report libraries. Built-in security protects data by granting access to authorized users based on their role within the organization.

STRENGTHS: By using WebFOCUS to directly access data in our business applications, we were able to avoid the expense of developing and managing an enterprise data warehouse. Our time to market was greatly advanced by choosing this solution and dedicating the appropriate internal and external resources.

WEAKNESSES: Architecturally speaking, analyzing production data can also cause performance issues if too many people want to generate reports against the production tables. This is not a weakness of the product, per se, just a realistic assessment of this type of direct-access architecture. We plan to build a data mart to supply targeted information for large-scale reporting activities.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Information Builders enabled us to access the data and create meaningful reports almost immediately. Other BI tools could offer many of the same capabilities, but Information Builders’ native mode adapter technology made it much easier for us to pull data out of our existing systems and create intermediate data stores that we could then report off of. WebFOCUS is also very intuitive and accessible to casual business users.

DELIVERABLES: WebFOCUS delivers information to every area of Levy’s organization. For example, WebFOCUS sales reports organize information from more than 10,000 retail locations every day to provide insight into which titles are moving. Meanwhile, warehouse managers use WebFOCUS to analyze the performance of Levy’s distribution centers - improving the efficiency of picking and packing operations to ensure inventory reaches retailers expeditiously. Users can drill down from a particular line within a distribution center to view performance metrics such as cost per hour or cost per package. The data is never stale since it is extracted from our operational systems. We also created a Publisher Portal that gives more than 300 partners visibility into Levy’s sales and inventory data. The portal provides instant information about which titles are selling, along with the ability to track purchase orders and gauge inventory shortfalls.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Levy retained Information Builders Professional Services to help us complete the enterprise-wide BI project. We were pleased with the progress we made, especially within the first 90 to 120 days.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is complete, well organized and supplemented by several useful online resources and customer support forums.


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