Humes builds BI out of at-hand products

Concrete pipe company Humes Pipeline Systems says it has cut its inventory by 26% after installing a business intelligence system that was based on Microsoft products it already had.

Concrete pipe company Humes Pipeline Systems says it has cut its inventory by 26% after installing a business intelligence system that was based on Microsoft products it already had.

Humes, a subsidiary of Fletcher Building, manufactures and sells pipeline systems to the energy, telecommunications and rural sectors. It has four major manufacturing plants and a distribution network of 22 sales centres around the country. The customer base ranges from self-employed drainlayers to large contracting companies.

Humes IT manager Paul Clent says the company knew it had an inventory problem, but couldn’t analyse the data to see how it was happening and thus couldn’t solve it. It decided it needed a business intelligence system and put out a request for information.

Clent says he looked at all major business intelligence products in the market before getting a major vendor — whom he wouldn’t name — and business intelligence software developer SwissWin to do a proof of concept.

SwissWin designed a business intelligence solution using common Microsoft products. In Humes’ case it was products the company already had a select licensing agreement for — Microsoft Office, particularly Excel, SQL Server’s OLAP capabilities and Internet Information Server. SwissWin used these to deliver web pages that give users a view of key business data wrapped up in Excel pivot tables. The data is extracted from the company’s 11-year-old heavily customised ERP system Symix. Clent admits Excel users can be put off pivot tables because they are regarded as difficult, but says SwissWin made them easier to use.

The proof of concept was done in November 2000 and staff started using the system in March 2001 after a nationwide training programme.

Clent says the initial business case for the system had a payback period of six months, but the company got its return on investment in one month. He says the reduction in inventory is directly attributable to the new-found visibility of the data to see where the problem stock was, to put targets in place and to measure them. Clent says the major cost was a new server — a Dell PowerEdge — to run the database and web servers.

Humes has remote sites around the country and has used a thin client architecture based on Windows Terminal Server to deploy the new system across the company.

Humes started small to give users the ability to get used to the new system but has now expanded it from inventory to sales analysis and is looking at financials. It now has 100 people able to use the system out of a total headcount of 275.

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