In-Depth

Mold-Masters

Application Development Trends Innovator Awards – Mold-Masters

I. Project Information

a. Company: Mold-Masters
c. Project designation: project "MMBI"
d. Brief explanation of the goals of the project:

Mold-Masters wanted to turn the wealth of data generated by its SAP data warehouse solution into actionable information. Additionally, Mold-Masters found that it needed an enhanced solution for formatted reporting and ad hoc queries. The company also required a better toolset for non-IT users and a solution that integrated non-SAP data sources such as MS SQL Server, MS Access, and other proprietary and transactional systems.

e. Brief description of the business risks involved:

The company’s first risk was overload of its SAP resources – both the system load of retrieving data from R/3 with the increasing database size and the load on the SAP technical analysts. These analysts needed to be personally involved in data extraction for reporting and report development because of limitations and lack of optimization of data structures and tools within R/3 (optimized for transactional requirements, which is often counter to optimization for reporting).

The second risk was the opportunity cost of not having the ability to use the increasing amount of valuable data available to properly influence business decisions. As the business grew and matured in its ability to use data to measure and manage performance, it needed that information to be readily, flexibly and accurately available. The ability to measure, report and analyze is key to managing the effectiveness of these programs, so difficulty accessing this information is risky and costly.

f. Brief description of how the system helps users:

With the implementation of project MMBI, Mold-Masters now has reports that are easy to create, access, and analyze. Users can now get immediate information comparing year-to-date versus pervious year-to-date and more. The data in the system is updated nightly so users can be confident they are acting on the most up-to-date information. The big change for Mold-Masters with this project is that information that in the past took weeks to compile is now readily available. For example, an updated Balance Sheet report is now ready anytime at the push of a button, within four seconds instead of weeks.

The remote sales team went from raw data spreadsheets, with inconsistent usage and adoption throughout the sales team, to an array of different reports, all sharing the same data. These reports are now providing information at the touch of a button that the sales teams could never access before. Each sales rep now has a personalized point of entry to see reports targeted specifically to his or her needs. The reports answer the top 10-15 questions the sales reps have, including the provision of mission-critical information on customers, orders received, territory information, and invoice status.


II. Organizational Objectives

a. What short- and long-term benefits did the organization achieve from the project? Did the solution meet the projected goals for saving time and money? How were benefits measured? Was the system mission critical to the organization?

In March 2004, Mold-Masters went live with the new system and the results have been dramatic. For the first time ever, the company has been able to share a coherent and single version of truth and combine SAP BW, MS Access, and MS SQL Server data on the same report. By having agreed-upon and shared KPI’s and key figures, the business teams can now spend the time to interpret and analyze readily available information instead of spending time reaching a consensus as to the meaning and validity of data. This has had a fundamental role in increasing the effectiveness of business processes.

Today, Mold-Masters has achieved 100 percent report usage across sales. The Executive Information System (EIS) application was delivered to a dozen members of the senior management team in all functional areas. The North American sales solution was delivered to approximately 25 users, including the creation of new sales analysis roles that did not effectively exist before this solution was realized. Currently, the company is in the midst of extending the implementation of the solution to include the finance department and is working toward having it available to the HR, quality management, manufacturing, and purchasing departments.
While the technology played a crucial part in delivering on the information strategy, the actual process of designing the MMBI solution itself was key. It was an opportunity for the business teams to get together and standardize for the first time on specific meanings of KPIs and other measures. This organizational alignment effort itself was invaluable for the overall project success.
Lastly, one of the largest impacts for Mold-Masters is the effect that MMBI has had on its overworked IT department. With information now available to the sales force how they want it and whenever they want it; the IT department has reduced the number of ad hoc requests to IT for more information. By provisioning a clean information foundation and providing powerful yet simple ad hoc query functionality to business analysts, requests can now be addressed within the sales department itself—rather than through IT.
b. Describe the business purpose of the new system:

The business purpose of the new system was two-fold. First, to provide senior management in the areas of sales, manufacturing, HR and finance with a dashboard with drill-throughs to detailed reports. Second, to enhance the sales reporting infrastructure by reducing report production time, streamlining distribution to the mobile sales force, and providing more flexible analysis without further burdening the IT group.

c. Describe the features of the new system:
The entire project used two primary resources. To ensure a relevant and effective solution, there was also some overlap of the two resources.
One resource focused on the primary duties of project management, needs assessment and articulation from the business. Designing the MMBI solution was an opportunity for the business teams to get together and standardize for the first time on specific meanings of KPIs and other measures.
The other resource focused on technical implementation aspects. Since 1999, Mold-Masters has been relying on mySAP ERP as the IT backbone for its key business processes in areas such as financials, sales, purchasing or manufacturing. In order to turn the wealth of data generated by this system into actionable information, Mold-Masters implemented a comprehensive Business Intelligence (BI) solution based on SAP NetWeaver BI and Cognos ReportNet.
d. Explain the functions of the new system:
SAP NetWeaver provides Mold-Masters with a clean and rich information foundation. Data from a variety of business processes is extracted, integrated and then converted into meaningful business information. While the vast majority of data is extracted from mySAP ERP, some external data such as budgeting data is regularly loaded into SAP NetWeaver BI.
As the business user interface to SAP NetWeaver BI and other information sources, Mold-Masters implemented Cognos ReportNet. While Mold-Masters felt that SAP NetWeaver BI was the best data warehousing solution for its needs, Cognos ReportNet provided an enhanced solution for formatted reporting and ad hoc queries, a better toolset for non-IT users, and a solution that integrated non-SAP data sources (such as from Microsoft data files or other transactional systems). Also, Cognos ReportNet allowed Mold-Masters’ users to complement data from SAP NetWeaver ‘on the fly’ with trend data from other systems.
Once the decision was made to implement MMBI based on SAP NetWeaver BI and Cognos ReportNet, Mold-Masters decided on a two-phased approach to implementation. The company began by implementing Cognos ReportNet with its Executive Information System. This provided senior management in the areas of sales, manufacturing, human resources and finance with a dashboard that would have drill-through capabilities to detailed reports. This project entailed replacing the Microsoft Access front-end with ReportNet and combining data from SAP BW and Microsoft Access. The second phase was the enhancement of the sales reporting infrastructure, which involved reducing report production time, streamlining distribution to the mobile sales force, and providing more flexible analysis without further burdening the IT group.
e. Who were the internal sponsors of the project? Which officials or groups were opposed to developing the application? Why?

IT was the internal sponsor of the overall project, with sales sponsoring the initial sales reporting phase. Given that there was solid internal support for this project, there was no formal opposition to developing the application.

f. Were users of the system involved in the project during the planning and development phases? If so, how?

During the sales reporting phase of the project, sales team members were key in defining the requirements. Requirements were stated in terms of business questions asked and day to day activities, rather than as specific reporting requests.

g. What were the greatest challenges in completing this project? How were they overcome?
Prior to project MMBI, sales reports at Mold-Masters were provided to users in the forms of giant spreadsheets, manually pulled together directly from the source systems. Sales teams could then format these spreadsheets to view the information pertinent to their needs. These spreadsheets, in trying to be all things to all people, were cumbersome, confusing, time-consuming, and required additional data manipulation by users to become meaningful information. The result was a lack of focus in the reports, a low user adoption rate, and the opportunity for differing interpretations of the numbers they were generating.
Cognos ReportNet was able to integrate all their diverse data sources into a single report, and had the tools needed to empower all users, regardless of technical expertise.
h. Were the goals changed as the project progressed? If so, what were the changes and why were they made?

The overall project will eventually encompass all business areas, so there is an ongoing challenge to make sure that the goals of each phase of the project stay focused. As the project progressed, the goals of the individual phase of the project didn’t change, but the scope and number of subsequent phases did.


III. Category

Please indicate the Innovator Award category as listed below. (Categories reflect the editorial organization of Application Development Trends. Many projects can reasonably be fit into multiple categories. Try to fit your project into the category that best reflects the tools and technologies used. Don’t worry about whether you picked the right category; we will review all submissions carefully and will make changes where appropriate.
Data Warehousing

IV. Methodology/Process

a. Describe how productivity tools or techniques were used in the project.
Business content and best practices provided by SAP as part of their BW offering were used in the project.
b. Were testing tools used during development? If so, when were they used? Was the testing cost-effective?

Formal testing tools were not used – only a data validation phase of the project

c. Was a formal or informal software development life-cycle methodology employed? If yes, please describe it.

No

d. What formal or informal project management methodologies and/or tools were used to manage the project? If used, please describe how.

Informal project management methodologies were used for breaking the project into business area phases and defining scope, deliverables and milestones for each of the phases. Business area champions were also identified.

e. Were software quality metrics used? If so, what were they, and did using them significantly help the project?

Prior to purchase, Mold-Masters requested a proof of concept. The company wanted to make sure Cognos ReportNet would perform in its unique environment. Cognos ReportNet was put to the test over a four-day period. Given previous experiences integrating third-party technology, Mold-Masters had allocated the first two days to get the connection made. With ReportNet, the connection was made within 10 minutes, using resources with no past SAP experience, which was the tipping point for Mold-Masters to decide on Cognos ReportNet.


V. Technology

a. What were the major technical challenges that had to be overcome to complete the project successfully?

Giant raw data spreadsheets for reporting were causing a lack of user adoption, inconsistent usage across sales, a lack of confidence in numbers and more workload for IT to generate maintain, format, and distribute reports. Additionally, there were too few IT resources to support increasing information needs.

How did the team respond to those challenges?

As mentioned, Mold-Masters decided on a two-phased approach solving this technical challenge. The IT department began by implementing Cognos ReportNet with its Executive Information System, providing senior management with a dashboard that would have drill-through capabilities to detailed reports. This project entailed replacing the Microsoft Access front-end with ReportNet and combining data from SAP BW and Microsoft Access. The second phase was the enhancement of the sales reporting infrastructure, reducing report production time, streamlining distribution to the mobile sales force, and providing more flexible analysis without further burdening the IT group.

b. What software tools, including databases, operating systems and all development tools, were selected for the project? Why were they selected over competing tools? What process was used to select development tools and software platforms?

Tool selection process – data warehouse

Within the context of high level understanding of the market and data warehouse options, Mold-Masters did a pilot analysis of BW primarily to identify strong reasons NOT to go with it. Only if the company had uncovered some key shortcomings would it have moved to a phase of evaluating other data warehouse solutions.
The only area that Mold-Masters felt was worth investigating alternatives was front end report delivery tools.
    Tool selection process – reporting
  1. Created list based on research of the industry
  2. High level discussions with a short list of vendors, focusing on SAP-BW integration
  3. Narrowed down to Cognos ReportNet as the best solution
  4. Pilot of ReportNet in the SAP-BW environment focusing on SAP-BW integration, report development and distribution features and integration of non-SAP data
Mold-Masters found particular value in the seamless integration between SAP NetWeaver BI and Cognos ReportNet. Cognos provided out-of-the-box integration to the SAP NetWeaver. Mold-Masters had consulted the research of leading analyst firms to get a sense of the market leaders in reporting on SAP NetWeaver BI. This analysis immediately put Cognos at the top of its list. Furthermore, Mold-Masters felt that Cognos had the strongest commitment to SAP NetWeaver and was very knowledgeable with regard to integration aspects for NetWeaver. Other factors that attracted the company to ReportNet were its scalable licensing model, its usability and features, its report distribution options, and the fact that Cognos software is zero footprint—making it a truly Web-ready solution that would be scalable and would simplify rollout and administration.
c. Describe the overall system architecture. Were elements of the technical infrastructure put in place to support the new system? Please describe.

The complete list of platforms used is as follows:

  • SAP BW
  • Microsoft (MS) SQL Server
  • MS Access
  • Other transactional and proprietary systems
Solutions: Cognos ReportNet and SAP Net Weaver BI
Server information
SAP-BW 3.1 c on a SQL database – server 1
ReportNet 1.1 with SQL content store – Content store on SQL server; ReportNet application on its own server
As mentioned, this project entailed replacing the Microsoft Access front-end with ReportNet and combining data from SAP BW and Microsoft Access.
d. What characteristics of the tools and technologies used were most important in achieving the business purposes of the system?
SAP NetWeaver provides Mold-Masters with a clean and rich information foundation, allowing data from a variety of business processes to be extracted, integrated and then converted into meaningful business information.
As it pertains to the Executive Information System and other reporting needs, the company now has reports that are easy to create, access, and analyze through Cognos ReportNet. Mold-Masters was able to integrate all of its diverse data sources—Microsoft Access, Microsoft SQL Server, SAP BW, and other transactional and proprietary systems—into a single report. Senior executives were able to use dashboards with drill-throughs to these detailed reports. They can now get immediate information comparing year-to-date versus pervious year-to-date and more.
By using the wealth of data from SAP NetWeaver and the reporting capabilities of Cognos ReportNet, the remote sales team sales department went from raw data spreadsheets, with inconsistent usage and adoption throughout the sales team, to an array of different reports, all sharing the same single truth.

VI. Project Team

a. What was the size of the development team?

There were two core people on the development team, including SAP BW development. Other individuals from the business were involved with data validation, data definition, scope definition etc.

b. Describe the software development experience of the team members.
There was no real “software development” experience from the team members. They had Basis and R/3 data structure knowledge plus “super user” type development experience (Access and VBA, for example).
c. What was the composition and skill level of the team? Did development teams require training to work with the technology?
Team members are truly cross functional and cross role. SAP BW resources attended BW boot camp training; ReportNet resources attended one-week boot camp training; and an additional week of “ReportNet on SAP BW” training was attended by both resources.
The team is very business focused, with technical capabilities, rather than the other way around.
d. How many person-months/days did the project take, and over what calendar time frame? Was a formal schedule created at the start of the project? Did the project stay on schedule?
The schedule was semi-formal, as the IT team realized that for the first phases, there were many variables and unknowns that made it difficult to make accurate schedule plans. That said, the overall goal was to have a new sales reporting environment in place for start of Mold-Masters’ fiscal year (Oct 1, 2004). This was accomplished, with more delivered then originally hoped for.
  • The schedule below was achieved with basically two resources working ½ time on this project, plus intermittent business resources for scoping, data validation etc.
  • December 2003
  • POC for SAP-BW
  • January 2004
  • POC for ReportNet
  • January through March 2004
  • SAP-BW implementation, EIS and sales scoping
  • March 2004
  • ReportNet EIS implemented
  • April – July 2004
  • SAP-BW sales implementation
  • July – Sept 2004
  • ReportNet sales implementation and rollout
e. Did management and the user community consider the project a success?

Yes, as noted previously, Mold-Masters has achieved 100 percent report usage across sales. The Executive Information System (EIS) application was delivered to a dozen members of the senior management team in all functional areas. Business teams now can spend the time to interpret and analyze readily available information instead of spending time reaching a consensus as to the meaning and validity of data.

f. If you had to do the project over again, would you do anything differently? If yes, please explain why.

On the sales information side, Mold-Masters delivered a fairly customized solution based quite tightly on the user requirements. If the IT team were to do that part over again and take the approach they took in subsequent phases, they would make more use of BW business content.

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