Elie Tahari Discovers Business Intelligence

High-end fashion retailer Elie Tahari was recently faced with a nice problem: the company was growing so fast—a 70-percent growth rate last year alone—that it needed to upgrade its operations.

The retailer, which has existed since the 1970s, sells its collection at department stores, including Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Elie Tahari uses an IBM AS/400 server to host Apparel Computing Systems, an industry-standard operation package from Computer Generated Solutions.

“The legacy system is quite stable; it runs every apparel store in the world, but it’s a green screen,” says Susan Jones, Elie Tahari’s information architect. The retailer selected thin clients because they could read existing files on its IBM DB2. “Thin clients, in general, are more user-accessible… Thin clients provide prettier-looking interfaces than green screens to anyone and everyone.”

In the process, Elie Tahari also wanted the ability to spot clothing trends and provide executives and department managers with a current view of activities and reports in orders, inventory, sales and finance. After looking at several products, the retailer selected Information Builder’s WebFocus Managed Reporting Environment, Developer Studio and ReportCaster. The Apparel Computing Systems now provides operational data to WebFocus, running on a Hewlett-Packard ProLiant DL380 G3 server powered by dual Pentium Xeon processors. The Xeon processors run Microsoft Windows 2000 and access a data warehouse on AS/400.

Jones and her team used Information Builder’s software to build InSeam, its self-service reporting application, as well as a self-service front end to deliver the information. InSeam allows authorized users to obtain self-service reports in orders, inventory, sales and finance. InSeam monitors wholesale orders against inventory and offers precise sales information as important situations develop, such as orders against inventory and retail performance vs. target on a store’s end, Jones says. It also provides size scale, color performance and region analysis, she says. “How many of each size did we cut…and what have we sold at retail, do we have enough size 6s,” Jones says. She says Elie Tahari didn’t have this specific capability beforehand and now has input into the next design season.

“It’s exportable into Excel, it’s accurate, fast and agony-free,” Jones says. Executives and department managers can access reports via standard Web browsers.

Every report InSeam creates includes pictures and users can drill down to find information on size, color and style, as well as performance history. The important feature is pictures appear in pop-up windows and users won’t lose the base page from where they started, she says.

Using ReportCaster, reports in InSeam can be sent by e-mail on a scheduled or ad hoc basis. For example, sales executives receive hourly reports highlighting orders that require immediate attention.

Jones and her team are currently working on multidimensional reporting tables with WebFocus, implementing an XFocus database, which are individual indices that are combined into an array. Any individual query that filters on more than one index locates its combined indices in the array, making retrieval “unbelievably fast,” she says.

“In the industry, it’s drill down, but with XFocus, it’s drill anywhere,” Jones says. Users would be able to switch matrixes around to wherever they want to go.

About the Author

Kathleen Ohlson is senior editor at Application Development Trends magazine.