REVIEWER: Michael J. Dooley, owner and president of M.J. Pipe & Supply Corp.

BACKGROUND: M.J. Pipe & Supply is a 100-year-old distributor of water and sewer infrastructure products, such as clay and plastic pipes, to contractors, plumbers, developers and municipalities throughout western New York. Owner Mike Dooley purchased the business after working his way up the company ladder. He started with a summer job driving trucks in 1971 and now is preparing to lead the 11-person firm into its fourth consecutive year of revenues exceeding $8 million.

PLATFORMS: M.J. Pipe & Supply is running Silvon Stratum on a Windows NT server.

PROBLEM SOLVED: To raise the business to the next level, we wanted to make decisions based on one version of the truth. Therefore, we wanted analytic applications that consolidated data from multiple sources. As a midsize company, we could not afford to waste funds and resources on purchasing too much software or hardware, or on building a solution from scratch.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Product and Market Segmentation: Stratum's Sales Performance Management application allows us to identify the market segments yielding the most profit. For example, we now clearly understand what sizes and types of pipe are most profitable and whether large or small municipalities make the best customers. With this information, we are using Stratum's budgeting and planning capabilities to build a sales and marketing plan that will focus our sales force on growth segments. Margin Improvement: Stratum's Sales Performance Management application enables us to examine individual products and product lines in terms of average selling price. This type of granular detail helps us develop strategies for increasing margins on an item-by-item basis. Market Penetration: In 2002, we plan to implement Stratum's Activity Cost Management application in order to view each market segment by sales volume and true net profitability based on activity- based costing analysis. Those segments with the greatest profitability potential will be targeted in our sales and marketing plan for deeper market penetration. Receivables Reduction: Stratum also helps us manage our receivables more closely. We can view open orders in a way that allows us to focus on collecting past invoices before new invoices are issued.

STRENGTHS: Customization: Silvon adapted Stratum to our special needs and was very proactive in defining these custom requirements. Simplicity: Stratum is easy to use. The on-screen analytic views display quickly using a point-and-click interface. Flexibility: Stratum allows parameters to be changed easily so facts can be verified by examining the same data from different angles and points of view. Budgeting and Planning Tools: Stratum analyzes data from global to granular and every level in between. Decisions can be validated on multiple levels with detailed support.

WEAKNESSES: Report printing: Format problems sometimes arise when going from on-screen reports to printed reports. For example, headers are lost on columns or rows.

SELECTION CRITERIA: When reviewing analytic application providers, many companies didn't seem to take us seriously because of the size of our business. The attitude of some vendors seemed to be that business intelligence was over our heads. From our first meeting, Silvon seemed to believe as we did ­ that any business of any size can benefit from performance analytics. After seeing that Stratum's pricing is competitive and hearing positive references from other Silvon customers, we felt a head-to-head comparison with other software vendors was unnecessary.

DELIVERABLES: Six months after implementation, we have used Stratum to generate a half-point improvement in margins. Our accounts receivable cycle has been reduced by 10 days. We are using Stratum for strategic planning, as it provides us with exact baselines and clear targets against which we can measure success.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Silvon's vendor support is exceptional. The team is cooperative, collaborative and flexible. They kept us fully informed before, during and after implementation and were willing to schedule according to our needs. As noted before, Silvon treated our customization needs as important, when other software vendors may have steered us to off-the-shelf functionality. All implementations have bumps, but Silvon handled every one professionally and in a timely fashion.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation is adequate to good. Training is thorough.

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