mrc Case Study: Converse

Challenge
Converse chose JBA to serve as it's Enterprise Resource Planning software package, but its reporting capabilities left a lot to be desired.

Solution
Use the mrc-Productivity Series tool suite to allow all areas of the company to write their own reports using business expertise, and to avoid users having to rely on in-house programmers.

Value
Converse, after looking a number of different options, decided to go with the mrc-Productivity Series because it enabled them to maximize the skills of their staff, but also to work independently over the database files without affecting the actual JBA code, which means the reports written by mrc-Productivity Series will last through package upgrades, changes, etc.


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Challenge

As the manufacturer of one of the most famous shoes of all time, the canvas All Star, Converse and the history of sporting footwear (particularly basketball) go hand in hand. Whilst history is an important contributory factor to its culture, in order to maintain a position at the forefront of its business sector, the company has had to innovate continuously.

Company technology and innovation are not restricted to the product. As a global enterprise, in order to maintain its competitive edge, there was a growing need to utilise the ever-increasing range and depth of information available across the company internationally. Ian Warne, as head of IT, had the responsibility of evaluating the company structure and implementing a strategic solution that would enable each arm of Converse to access and work with a large amount of common, up-to-date information. Fed from the UK and the USA, it would be a one-stop data point.

After exploring the range of business systems that could deliver this, Warne settled on JBA, which was to be rolled out to nine countries in just six months. Once the decision had been made, the key requirement was to ensure that the system would be running at the required level through JBA by the end of June 1999.

Solution

Within the overall solution, report writing was an essential part. The driving premise was that all areas of the company would be able to access the available data and write their own reports. This would offer considerable savings in both time and costs (not having to rely on software house programmers), empower non-IT staff to utilise their business knowledge and offer increased efficiency.

After comparing the reporting tools available, the mrc-Productivity Series was chosen. As a versatile and comprehensive integrated suite, it featured a full spectrum of functionality. Java, data mining, green screen generation, web-based AS/400 access, and a powerful report writer were brought together in one integrated product. Engineered to get the user out of the blocks immediately, in its existing environment over existing files, with a minimum of investment and just two days training, mrc suited Converse. ‘mrc enabled us to fully utilise our data within days, not weeks,’ Warne explained. ‘It was crucial to get detailed information out of the system and maximise our investment.’

The desire to present easily digestible information from the JBA business system in a form that was relevant to company mechanics drove the implementation of mrc. In essence mrc gave Converse the option to choose the way information was presented, rather than the way imposed by JBA, and access information that would otherwise be unavailable from a practical point of view.

David Spindler, Converse’s Information Analyst, cites three short examples:

‘JBA reports on a shoe size level, and with Converse producing approximately 300 different shoes in 18 sizes this meant reports of 500 plus pages, going into details that were irrelevant to the way we worked. We simply wanted to see it at product style level. mrc allowed us to summarise the data to this level.’

He expands: ‘My speciality is with PC-based formats and so I was initially wary of the mrc-Productivity Series. However, I was almost immediately writing detailed reports on the AS/400 and client/server.’

‘JBA includes the ability to define the date range for each financial period. This is very useful but presents problems with reports. For financial reporting we need to view all data (including that found outside the ledgers) by financial periods. To all other reporting tools this seems to be a problem, but mrc allows that functionality.’

‘Cost Price was another technical issue. The JBA system stores cost prices at the value when orders are placed. However, in our industry we not only take orders for as much as 12 months ahead, but also need to keep track of at least two different cost prices. Again, mrc allows this to happen.’

The ability mrc gave Converse to write new RPG and VB code without employing any programmers was beneficial in two core areas. The code worked independently over the files without affecting the JBA code, maintaining the integrity of any programme written by JBA, so allowing continued support for each one.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it allowed Warne to maximise the skills of his staff.

Prior to mrc there was an IT team of 6, primarily concentrating on supporting just the UK, two of whom were programmers. By deploying standard JBA wherever possible and using mrc, there are now just five staff supporting nine European countries. The structure of the department has been optimised. With no need for permanent programmers, Warne can employ those with business enthusiasm and knowledge, able to quickly utilise information, build applications and offer working solutions.

With the system infrastructure taking shape, Warne could start to concentrate on delivering his vision of the one-stop data point. His aim was to take this further than simply providing the information; it would include tools by which the user could easily extract and analyse the information that they wanted, be it internationally or domestically, using everyday Excel skills.mrc acted as the bridge and facilitated the transfer of data in a form that could be accessed by the user and manipulated quickly and easily into a report that was relevant to that individual. No longer would IT be bombarded with requests for everyday reports. The users were empowered to drive the system and the ‘Converse Bureau’ was born.

Updated every week it would contain up-to-date company-wide information from the JBA system, allowing the more efficient running of the business fundamentals, such as stock levels, orders and deliveries. This information was not the end result, it was merely the set of building blocks for each individual to use; to develop reports, analyse fluctuations and patterns, build orders and effectively manage their area of the business.

The success was so immediate that Converse is already reaping the benefits of increased profitability. Ian Warne estimates that ‘Within 1999/2000 the Converse Bureau is on target to produce an improvement in profit of over 2 percent.’

Value

As more applications are developed through mrc, they will be added to the Bureau. Those currently under development include Debtor Analysis, Forecasting/Planning and Trial Balance.

From here it plans to gain further efficiencies. The quicker the information is made available and the more up-to-date it is, the easier it becomes to achieve the optimum business performance. Web pages seem to offer the most attractive alternative to the CD format currently used and mrc will be used for this.

As mrc uses Open Template Technology clients are able to create individual programme styles across multi-platforms. Effectively, it is an open code generator not only capable of creating programs in RPG, CL, VB and Java, but also able to adjust to future developments without having to re-write the programs.

By marrying the respective strengths of JBA and mrc, Converse has, in a very short time, been able to change the way the company operates, making IT work effectively for everyone. The impact of being able to access and use up-to-date company information can be felt throughout the organisation, already delivering increased efficiency and profitability.

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