Coming out of the cold: A different kind of warehouse

A company's ability to shift focus and stay ahead

Joe Gagliardi

"The difference between any organization is how knowledge is applied within the organization."

of the industry curve is essential to success. In this, the so-called frozen food sector is no different than high tech.

One would think that a business centered around the storage and distribution of frozen foods would not face a changing business climate like the software industry. Southeast Frozen Foods of Miami met a similar challenge as it shifted from a middleman in the manufacturer-to-consumer sales chain, to more of a cold storage business paradigm. The move was required as large grocery chains no longer bought frozen foods through a middleman, rather preferring to deal directly with the manufacturers.

However, the grocery chains still needed to store their frozen foods before they were stocked in the aisles. Southeast Frozen Foods saw an opportunity and began what is now a successful cold storage business. The Information Services department believes part of the company's transitional success can be traced back to Southeast Frozen Foods, implementation of Synon/2E, a database modeling and code generation tool from Synon Corp., Larkspur, Calif., purchased to replace an aging mainframe-based system, said Joe Gagliardi, Information Services manager for Southeast Frozen Foods.

"[Synon/2E] automates a lot of things, making for extremely rapid development," said Gagliardi. This development capability allowed Gagliardi and his staff of two full- and one part-time programmers to develop a cold storage tracking system rapidly as the company began to switch gears.

With one half of a warehouse sitting idly in the Miami heat, Southeast Frozen Foods began 'leasing' out public cold storage. The initial system implemented to track inbound and outbound storage could not share information with the AS/400-based Synon database, making it less than useful.

Gagliardi's group built a series of applications to track incoming and outgoing shipments and bills for handling costs within their AS/400 system. "We can supply the customer with beginning and ending balances that match the numbers they have," Gagliardi said.

Southeast Frozen Foods originally purchased the Synon system to replace their outmoded legacy systems. What the company did not realize was the vast productivity and monetary gains it would receive from the decision to switch.

Gagliardi said his company bought the Synon with the goal of converting its 12 existing legacy programmers into Synon people. However, "RPG programmers are used to doing batch and sequential programming and they didn't know how to be flexible [with the object-oriented Synon language]," Gagliardi explained.

Today, only one of the original 12 programmers remains on Gagliardi's staff. Yet, Gagliardi said his department's productivity has increased 1000%. Gagliardi attributes this to Synon's modeling language and a philosophy change within his group: learn the business that's driving database applications.

"When I came in, they could not give me business answers nor had the procedural documents to get to the answers," Gagliardi explained. He implemented a system where no field in the database could be changed until the programmer knew every ounce of business logic behind each field.

Gagliardi said they wanted the database to reflect the business and not the business to reflect the database, exactly the opposite of what had been happening prior to his arrival. Once the general business rules were tackled, Gagliardi's group started tackling one problem at a time, beginning with the warehouse tracking system which is separate from the aforementioned public cold storage tracking system. The small group took the time to define everything from what an aisle to SKU number is, before developing the application model for supporting the warehouse operation.

The system built by the Information Services group increased productivity on the warehouse floor by 30% in the company's five warehouses equaling $15 million in savings over a three-year period, said Gagliardi.

Today, Gagliardi no longer thinks of his department as a 'programming department,' as it is now business experts. They are currently putting this expertise to use to build a system that tracks how much a particular item a client sells when certain media advertising is being run. The system will be able to automatically increase orders of a specific item during a sale period, if a client so chooses. Sales people will be able to use this knowledge during client visits as an additional selling point, said Gagliardi.

"Most of the warehouse business is the same," Gagliardi said. "The difference between any organization is how knowledge is applied within the organization. The sum of the knowledge must be channeled through I/S or be lost when an individual leaves the company."

-- Jason J. Meserve