Transport giant drives data warehouse project

As regional IT director of Bax Global, a $US2 billion transportation company, Stephen Beacham had the job of creating a single view of customers to improve the decision making process.

Not an easy task for anyone but it is particularly challenging for a company that provides multi-modal freight forwarding for B2B customers worldwide and IT is managing a legacy environment.

Headquartered in California, the company has 500 offices across 123 countries and more than 11,000 employees, 400 of them in the Asia-Pacific region.

It is only in recent years the company has tackled the tough transformation process of moving away from manual processes and legacy systems. The project involved tough decisions, but Beacham admits the old processes were costly.

"We had a lot of manual costs that we were trying to drive out of our processes, and manpower, data integrity and consistency had to be provided despite the costs," he said.

Legacy systems and databases, Beacham says, were problematic.

"We set out on a mission to design and build a data warehouse that could provide information to the business and customers," he said. The project was called Apollo Intelligence and led to the creation of a team of eight.

"The solution had to enable tracking, reporting, analysis and planning," Beacham said.

"One of the hardest parts of the project, however, was the first phase, where we had to prove that this project would actually add value to the organization.

"And in all the workshops we held beforehand, we had to work out where all our info was coming from and the sort of systems needed to hold it." After two months of data gathering and speaking to customers, Bax Global chose Informatica's Power Centre data integration suite.

"The implementation included creating a prototype by building a repository of data for one customer," Beacham said.

"We also had to verify the scope of tracking and ensure reporting requirements were met.

"But throughout out the project we wanted to keep things simple and hold the whole thing together as well as we could."

Since completion of the Apollo project, the company has built a portal and vastly improved Web functionality.

"And the project is still undergoing revision, enhancement and development," Beacham said.

The biggest challenge?

"Working in a new area, and our business model and requirements were always changing," Beacham said.

"We also had other issues to deal with, such as existing legacy systems that didn't talk to each other, increasing pressure from customers for information and visibility of the supply chain and the cost of development and maintenance of the solution."

The organization had several methods for approaching these challenges including using the same model and architecture for internal and external users, building internal resources during development, ensuring business ownership of solution, and providing timelines on development to help manage expectations.

"Using the same architecture model for internal and external users was very important. We didn't want to build a whole new world for us to manage this," Beacham said.

"We also had to build skills sets and transfer knowledge across to our own people."

But in the end, Beacham said, Apollo has brought value to the business by providing a common and objective measurement framework.

"It helped to quickly deliver operational, tactical, financial and management intelligence and accurate measurements at the lowest granular level," he said.

"We are now able to provide timelines on development and be clear on what people are going to get and when they're going to get it."

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