BACKGROUND: Like any global enterprise, Sony Corporation of America must optimize its inventories to reduce operating costs while maintaining the ability to respond to market demand for its numerous consumer electronic product lines. A subsidiary of Sony Corporation, the company is a leading manufacturer of audio, video, communications and information technology products for the consumer and professional markets.

PLATFORMS: WebFOCUS dynamically generates HTML reports on an IBM SP2 UNIX server. The SP2 server is also used for hosting the Oracle7.3 database and Oracle WebServer.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Sony's U.S.-based electronic products group manages over 11,000 product types distributed through more than 50 warehouses. Traditionally, inventory data was available only through standard mainframe reports; historical data and ad hoc reporting were not easily available. We developed an Oracle-based data warehouse that is fed from multiple legacy sources to ease the process of managing our inventories. The Oracle database is organized in a star schema to facilitate querying and reporting. We used a multi-pronged strategy to serve our diverse user base. For power users, we deployed a Windows-based client/server solution to support ad hoc reporting. However, we realized that this would not be cost-effective for serving most of our target audience, which currently numbers more than 1,100 users. Instead, we used a Web browser-based reporting approach, where users could obtain reports and submit queries via the intranet. For the Web reporting system, we required a solution that was inexpensive, quick to install and easy to use and maintain. We chose Information Builders (IBI) WebFOCUS, which generates HTML-based reports on the fly from our Oracle data warehouse.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Web-FOCUS produces HTML-formatted reports on demand. Its flexibility allows us to include any URL linkages that, in turn, can be used to hotlink to related reports or drill down for further detail. WebFOCUS also allows us to save report results on the fly.

STRENGTHS: WebFOCUS easily met our ease-of-use requirements. We were able to install it quickly and generate reports on the same day without the need for outside consulting. You don't need to know SQL or HTML to build rich, Web browser-based reporting applications. Additionally, WebFOCUS leverages Information Builders FOCUS reporting engine, greatly simplifying mundane tasks such as generating column or row totals.

WEAKNESSES: We have encountered some difficulties developing more complex applications that required us to have more in-depth knowledge of HTML. For example displaying multiple reports on the same browser page or building large reports combining reporting and complex Web page functionality required a higher level of HTML expertise than we had at the time of original deployment.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We examined a wide range of products. In fact, we are using another product, BusinessObjects, for our power user-oriented client/server reporting. Nonetheless, WebFOCUS was one of the few products that met all three of our criteria which included low cost, ease of use and versatile functionality.

DELIVERABLES: We have rolled out WebFOCUS to more than 1,100 users in the past two years. In place of monthly reports, they can now view inventory activity on a daily basis, if necessary. In place of standard reports, users can format and organize their reports according to their needs from menus that we have developed in WebFOCUS. Before the system was in place, users spent most of their reporting time searching for data; now they spend the majority of their time analyzing it. At least three other groups within Sony are beginning to use WebFOCUS for their development projects; significantly, these groups are working with minimal knowledge of HTML and Oracle. We have also greatly expanded the range of reports delivered by WebFOCUS. In addition to inventory reporting, we have added nearly 10 new subject areas covering functions such as sales, finance, human resources, product service and supply chain/logistics management.

VENDOR SUPPORT: IBI helped our Web reporting system enter production very quickly. We have always received quick responses to our questions from Information Builders. They have remained very accessible. On the other hand, WebFOCUS is such an easy-to-use product that we have not had to seriously test their responsiveness.

DOCUMENTATION: WebFOCUS has proven easy to maintain, in part because the instructions from the documentation were very clear.

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