BI systems across the enterprise

The most serious business information problem companies face is finding a “single version of the truth.” Many companies are installing best-of-breed systems for order management, fulfillment, call center, marketing, product information, inventory, finance and e-commerce.

Yet no one vendor in the marketplace today can provide more than two of the best-of-breed components needed. Even most ERP systems available to direct marketers don’t provide specialized direct, retail or warehouse management functions that are as good as best-of-breed.

Such systems have given companies access to the best system functionally for end users. But even when they are integrated with one another, you still have numerous — and differing — occurrences of key data and metrics.

The result of all these silos of information is that no one system provides more than 30% of the data needed by senior management; for larger companies it may be only 10% to 15%.

Top managers have to request that department heads pull data with spreadsheets, use access databases, or ask business analysts to come up with reporting. These manual efforts mean management’s reporting depends on delay-riddled, error-prone processes.

What’s more, valuable productivity and service data exist in systems to which management may not have access or of which they may not be end users, such as telephone switches (ACDs) and e-commerce analytic systems. And with database structures and languages that can span 25 years of systems development, data often doesn’t reconcile from one information system to another.

Simply put, these systems and data flows can’t deliver the single version of the truth you need. Management faces the question: On which version of the data should we base our decisions?

Dashboards, metrics, alerts

Business intelligence (BI) solutions with dashboards and executive analytics can, potentially, solve this problem. By creating standardized and normalized databases that sit on top of your best-of-breed systems across the enterprise, those databases open up huge possibilities for management to sharpen critical decision-making.

You must also select a single, common version of data that is available in each best-of-breed system. Executives will, ideally, be able to select key metrics that can then be set up on a desktop, laptop or PDA for real-time monitoring of areas for which they are accountable.

In fulfillment, this may include orders shipped, orders carried over, productivity by department, or labor costs. Merchandising may want to see performance against the sales plan, top-50 selling products, products that are running low on inventory, or slow sellers that are potential candidates for liquidation. And marketing is likely to want all the current promotions and their sales and percent completion to plan, results from e-commerce analytics, and so on.

More than simply extracting data, such solutions allow management at various levels to set up actionable key performance indicator (KPI) alerts that proactively notify the executive when “dials” indicate a variance from an acceptable range or, conversely, extremely high performance.

Another feature of such BI systems is the ability for executives to drill down into the details that are the basis for their dashboard dials and alerts. So for an inventory control manager who has a dial for excess aged inventory, the drill-down would show all the key item-level inventory statistics for slow selling products with excess inventory.

Think for a minute: What data do you want to gain access to across your business? What information do you need, as a member of senior management, to run the business?

The key results and metrics a company president may want to be able to view regularly on a personal dashboard would include demand to net sales; call center, fulfillment, marketing, inventory and finance. Much of this is not found in any single information system. A number of the analyses and KPIs are created by including data mixed and matched between information systems.

The personal dashboard shown on page 54 represents a drill-down into each of the six core areas. The chart “Source data across the enterprise,” shown above, shows the best-of-breed system, independent system or spreadsheet from which the source data is drawn and in which the drill-down occurs.

One of the key benefits is that management can align the analysis and reporting with their short- and long-term strategy. It’s not just about reporting, but about achieving improved performance management and profitability of your business.

Many views, one set of data

Whether you are analyzing inventory levels or fill rates, demand or sales, the new BI tools ensure all departments are using a standardized view of the same data. Such BI systems also allow users to take cuts of the data and compare them in multiple ways, including this year to last year or actual to plan, as well as to reassemble the data and analyze it from one department to another.

Each department needs to maintain its own way of analyzing data, but also be able to bring its plans and results together in a consistent, uniform way.

Here’s an example of an advantage provided by the access to uniform data that these BI solutions allow. Merchandising, marketing and inventory control may have different information needs during the product and promotion life cycle, but they all revolve around gross demand planning and results.

Merchandising wants to know the sales trends and the quantity of each product that is needed across all promotions and channels — print, e-commerce and store. Marketing arrives at the catalog gross demand plan based on their circulation plans by drop, by house file, and by outside list segment.

Merchandising’s catalog preseason plans are built top-down by merchandise category, and bottom-up by product — but they should come close to tying together with marketing’s demand plans at the demand level.

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It’s inventory control’s job to interpret the plans and selling results and purchase product far enough in advance to be in stock when customers order. But management allows inventory control to purchase more product than the demand plans indicate, based on vendor lead time, vendor discounts offered, etc. — so they aren’t going to tie back to the others’ plans exactly.

Week-for-week, it’s hard to read selling trends and interpret them in a way that allows you to make the right decisions across the enterprise. The key departments above, along with the call center and fulfillment center, all benefit by sharing the latest sales plans and selling trends. BI solutions that can bring about the single version of the truth help keep everyone on the same page. l

Curt Barry ( is president of F. Curtis Barry & Co., a multichannel operations and fulfillment consultancy. Marketing



  • Net sales — OMS
  • Channel demand — OMS


  • % shipped complete — OMS or WMS
  • Trouble shipments — OMS or WMS
  • Carryover work — OMS or WMS
  • Labor budget trends — WMS, labor or finance


  • Abandonment rate — ACD switch
  • Inquiries/complaints results — OMS or CRM
  • Service levels — OMS or ACD
  • Labor trends — Scheduling, labor or finance
  • Media results — OMS
  • Campaign results — OMS
  • Customer satisfaction — OMS, Web
  • Outbound selling — CRM or contact management


  • Back order aging — OMS
  • Inventory aging — OMS or forecasting/inventory
  • Slow sellers — OMS or forecasting/inventory
  • Fast sellers — OMS


  • Net cash flow — Finance or spreadsheet
  • Line of credit — Finance or spreadsheet
  • Aged A/P — Finance
  • Aged A/R — Finance

OMS = order management;

WMS = warehouse management system;

Labor = labor management or budgeting system; Finance = general accounting; ACD = automated call distribution system (telephone switch); CRM = customer relationship management; Web = e-commerce site or analytics; Contact management = outbound selling to customers

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