Business Intelligence Buffs Kiwi’s Performance
Field sales people for Kiwi Brands, the $150 million manufacturer of the well-known Kiwi shoe care products as well as household and personal care product lines, once had to cool their heels waiting for sales reports to reach them from the company’s Douglassville, Pa., headquarters.
According to Raymond LaSota, Kiwi’s programming supervisor, sales, regional and divisional reports, including two years worth of information down to the item level, were done monthly and distributed to sales people and management.
"We would process it on our AS/400 Model E60," he explains. "Because of the volume of information, spool files would be saved to tape and the tapes would be sent to an outside agency for printing. After printing, the reports would come back to Douglassville where our people would sort and mail them. The process would take about a week and a half."
To make matters worse, chances were good that the reports would arrive when a sales person was traveling, LaSota says, and thus wouldn’t be seen for another week. "We were looking at a two- to three-week delay before the sales person would get the monthly report for the previous month. It was really old data."
The solution was a way to provide sales and management staff with direct, real-time access to sales and customer information, which would enable them to analyze sales trends and plan and adjust marketing and manufacturing plans. The answer was a data warehouse application.
Initially, Kiwi attempted to implement the data warehouse on a Unix platform, but mounting costs and complexity led them to abandon this strategy in favor of a second AS/400.
"To make it easier, we decided the best thing to do was to go to a client/server type of environment using an AS/400 50S for the data warehouse," LaSota says. "All our programmers had extensive knowledge of the AS/400, we all knew it was reliable, so we decided to go that route."
The project began in 1995, with roll out a year later. Order data from Kiwi’s customers is received on the E60 and transferred daily to the 50S. "Eighty percent of the orders come to us via EDI, so they automatically update our system," LaSota points out. "We just feed that over into our data warehouse."
Remote sales people, equipped with Pentium-based IBM ThinkPad laptops, dial into a frame relay network maintained by Sara Lee, Kiwi’s parent company, to access the warehouse system. "I wrote a Visual Basic program to give the users easy selection criteria from a GUI," LaSota explains. "The data is retrieved from the AS/400, returned to the laptop, or a desktop, and loaded into an Excel spreadsheet, where users can massage it, then put it into a PowerPoint presentation, or graph it out any way they want to."
Now, when they bring it up, users see a display categorizing the types of reports they can view: Sales Reporting, Funds Tracking, Profit and Loss, Customer Service and Fiscal Calendar.
Under Sales Reporting, for example, the system gives a drop-down menu option of daily sales, sales summary and shipment and budget. Under each, another menu offers further breakdowns by business unit, division, region and broker; then category of product, brand of product and specific product; finally down to the sold-to or ship-to level.
"At any one of those levels they can do any type of selection they want to," he says. "Or they can say they want to see it all. These are just the possible fields that are available. The results come back to them in an Excel spreadsheet, showing them the description of everything they selected, always comparing the time frame they picked to the previous year."
Besides the field sales force, the system is regularly used by Kiwi’s marketing department, sales statistics department, company vice presidents and the company president. However, not everyone gets to see the same information.
"We have some security levels in the system," LaSota says. "If you’re a sales person, you don’t get to see the regional totals, and we don’t want one salesperson seeing how another sales person is doing. Some of our brokers sell only our personal care products, so it’s none of their business how we might be doing in the shoe care or household care products."
The immediate benefit of the system was a reduction in calls from the field to Kiwi’s sales statistics department, according to LaSota. "They were getting calls daily asking for information. Now users can dial in and look up reports themselves. It has saved many man-hours there."
It has also helped when Kiwi rolls out new products, he says. In the past, sales people and executives could only find out how a new product was doing from the monthly reports. Now, as soon as a new product is introduced they can check on order activity from the first day.
"They would always be calling the customer service department asking if certain orders had been received. Now, sales people can see instantaneously that, yes, the order came in. They can wipe the sweat from their brows and know they made it for the month."
To date, Kiwi still sends out the hard copy monthly reports, still two to three weeks late, although they are now used chiefly for information archiving purposes. But that will change with the next release of the system, LaSota says.
"In the next release, due in September 1998, we’ll include Zip drives for the PCs where they can save it," he says. "Then the paper will be history. Eliminating the cost of printing and the man-hours spent sorting and mailing will mean a definite dollar savings."