At 6 pm Monday, the Signet Bank marketing
team gathers to review its new services proposal one last time before tomorrow’s weekly
management meeting. One analyst has finalized his plans for market testing a new personal
checking account. His confidence is high-a marked improvement from last year, when he
relied on an outside data provider for the most current consumer data to help determine
which banking services would meet customer’s demands. The marketing team often worried
that their ideas were based on outdated information, typically requiring several weeks to
retrieve data and then additional days to analyze it. With any luck, the team might
develop services before the competition.
Today, the same marketing team members are
more prepared than ever. They have earned respect of executive management and can make
effective decisions with the full support of Signet’s new in-house Silicon Graphics-Oracle
information system. The system updates customer profiles daily and provides more complete
information to the company’s marketers. It even gives the team daily results from the
hundreds of marketing initiatives that continuously occur. At Signet, success no longer
depends on luck.
A foundation of information-based
Signet Bank, a financial
services company, attributes its healthy business outlook to the implementation of
innovative information strategies enabled by Silicon Graphics and Oracle technologies.
Originally targeting banking products only in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC,
Signet began an aggressive national expansion in 1994. The development plan called for
commercial and consumer business growth through the establishment of new business sites,
the creation of alternative delivery channels, and the enhancement of technology,
including the company’s information management capabilities.
While Signet has long been a
proponent of information-based decision making (IBDM), its managers quickly recognized
that a move into the competitive national arena required significant improvements to
existing data management systems and processes. Specifically, Signet marketers and
analysts needed better access to databases for marketing programs and analysis. Rick
Whittemore, MIS Manager for mass-market services, explains, “We take a scientific or
test approach to marketing. The database is used in the process. Marketing databases are
not new for us, but we needed to increase our capabilities. We needed to do more analysis
on expanded data and at the same time shorten turnaround times.” Whittemore sites the
previous problem with information turnaround time. “For years, we used an outside
vendor for maintaining our marketing information files. It took eight weeks to get access
to updates. That was no longer acceptable.” To deliver improved and expanded data
management services, Whittermore and his team investigated marketing applications from
software VARs. The ultimate selection was EDS’ dbIntellect Technologies, not only for the
critical software functionality (the transaction engine), but for the company’s expertise
in recommending and implementing a complete system solution.
Leading the search for high-performance
hardware, dbIntellect helped Signet evaluate various platforms, including products from
Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Graphics and Sun. “For our type of application, the
dbIntellect benchmarks pointed to the Silicon Graphics machines. They were scalable,
extensible and could meet processing needs” according to Whittemore. The Silicon
Graphics platforms, with optimized I/O throughput, also offered maximized performance for
the Oracle database that would manage the company’s large data warehouse.
Whittemore describes Signet’s new
capabilities. “Because of the Oracle/Silicon Graphics combination, the response time
for queries is much faster, even if we’re running a lot of simultaneous analysis on the
front end.” The Signet configuration includes a Silicon Graphics server as a front
end handling the statistical analysis software (SAS), and another Silicon Graphics server
back-end that hots the Oracle database. In addition to SAS and dbIntellect’s transaction
engine, the system software incorporates a range of data access tools for the Oracle
The networked Silicon Graphics systems
accommodate more than 150 users, with 50 to 60% of users considered extremely active.
While maintaining a familiar user interface, the new system delivers quicker access and
data turnaround than previously possible. Updates that used to take two months are now
available weekly. “We have a more up-to-date database with more flexibility for
adding data and making changes. And we now do a better job of tracking program results.
It’s dramatically increased the overall productivity of our analysts,” Whittemore
The Oracle marketing database application
running on Silicon Graphics servers offers a competitive edge to analysts developing
deposit, investment and credit products for the consumer side of Signet’s business.
Detailed forecasts and analyses of product performance in a dynamic business climate are
accomplished quickly, with reliable results. Signet is already planning to expand the
applications to more fully cover its credit card, mortgage and educational funding
Whittemore believes that the breadth of
hardware and networking solutions from Silicon Graphics combines with Oracle software
provides novel approaches to marketing and business operations. He commends the EDS
dbIntellect Technologies, Signet, Oracle and Silicon Graphics team members for their joint
efforts. “From an end-user perspective, the project has gone extremely well- everyone
is very happy. Most importantly, the implementation of the marketing database system has
facilitated Signet’s corporate goals for national expansion. “To be a national
financial services player as a direct marketer, we needed to have much quicker turnaround
on our market campaigns, more flexibility and more control over the data. Having this kind
of database is essential- it is part of the cost of entry.” And has it improved
Signet’s competitive standing? Whitemore concludes by saying, “Yes, I think we’ve
done things that other people are just talking about. IT gives us better capabilities and
a better environment to develop intellectual capital.”
GLOBAL CASE STUDY: HOFFMANN
Java Helps Critical
Information Access For Pharma Company
implemented a Java-based application, enabling global employees of the Swiss company,
Hoffmann La-Roche, to access critical safety information updates.
For safety and environmental protection,
government agen-cies around the world require chemical and pharmaceutical companies to
produce and maintain hazardous material documentation, a complicated-yet essential-task
for a multinational corporation, which manufactures thousands of products. Previously,
Switzerland-based Hoffman La-Roche printed and distributed safety datasheets for each
substance the company produces. This paper distribution system was costly and time
consuming. Datasheets were printed and mailed and the information would often become
obsolete before it reached its destination in one of the 100 countries where Hoffman
La-Roche conducts business. Employees around the world were never sure if they had the
most accurate and up-to-date information.
To solve this problem, La-Roche contacted
Ergon Informatik, a leading software development firm and systems integrator based in
Zurich, Switzerland. Ergon had designed and built La-Roche’s original product safety
information database. The database, from which the datasheets are generated, holds over
200,000 records of complex information including textual descriptions and molecular
diagrams of the chemicals La-Roche manufactures. The database holds approximately 1000
datasheets, each of which is maintained in German and English.
La-Roche asked Ergon to build
on the existing system to improve distribution of the safety information. After
eliminating several proprietary document handling packages for being too restrictive,
expensive and hard to use, Ergon chose to develop the system using Sun Microsystems’ Java
development platform. Through Java, Ergon created an application that would retrieve
product safety information from the corporate database and roll it up so it could be
instantly browsed by La-Roche employees worldwide. In this way, datasheet information
would remain current and much of the expense of distribution would be eliminated.
“Java offers the advantage of cross-platform deployment and combines many new
technologies, including object-oriented programming, module orientation, and garbage
collection,” explains Patrick Burkhalter, President of Ergon. “That’s why it
meets our development requirements so well.”
Variety of data types for any
La-Roche wanted a system that
would offer certain capacities beyond those of traditional web centric applications. The
system had to be cost-effective so the company could continue to collect and disseminate
data without the costs of printing and large-scale mailings. The new system also had to be
flexible enough to house a variety of data types including textual descriptions, graphics
of molecular composition and specific caution notices for a large number of substances.
Finally, the system had to operate across La-Roche’s heterogeneous computing environment,
so employees would be able to access it from any computing platform worldwide. In
considering all of these requirements, La-Roche and Ergon recognized that Java was an
ideal solution that could handle every aspect of the challenge ahead. Creating the
datasheets required significant organization within the database and additional
custom-built software to manage graphical representations. To handle the printing of
graphics such as molecular diagrams, Ergon developed a special drawing application. The
drawing files are stored along with the textual information in the database.
User interface in Java
Ergon used Java to develop an
applet that serves as an interface to the safety datasheets. La-Roche employees run a
Netscape browser on their desktops to access the applet on the company intranet. The
applet has an interface that allows them to search for datasheets by product number,
product name, chemical formula and safety datasheet number. Using the Java applet,
La-Roche employees can access the datasheets at any time, from anywhere.
The applet retrieves datasheet information
from the database through a custom middle-ware application Ergon developed. Ergon’s
middleware translates the requests of the Java applet into SQL queries on the Sybase
database server behind a firewall. The safety datasheets are then generated with a report
writer and converted to store on the web server for viewing, printing, and easy
Ergon evaluated several
cross-platform development tools, but found that the large overhead built into these
products greatly lengthened the learning curve and significantly reduced development
efficiency. Based on these evaluations, Ergon decided to write the user interface for
safety datasheets entirely in Java. Ergon selected Java as its primary language because it
is flexible and easy to use.
The company also found that it was
relatively easy to find Java-savvy programming staff in Switzerland. Many Swiss technical
schools use the Oberon object-oriented language as a teaching tool. Burkhalter found that
most Oberon programmers can start writing actual Java applications within two weeks of
study and training.
The deployment environment for
safety datasheet is a three-tiered architecture consisting of a Java applet GUI, a web
server running the middleware, and a back-end database. La-Roche employees are connected
via a wide-area network to the company intranet running in a TCP/IP environment. Users run
Netscape browsers from a variety of desktop platforms, including Windows and Apple
The web server is a Sun SPARC system
running Netscape Commerce Server. The Sybase database runs on a Sun SPARC server at
La-Roche’s headquarters and currently stores approximately 1000 datasheets with 156 views.
Each datasheet is maintained in German and English, and consumes about 50kb of disk space.
A total of 200 MB of data is backed-up daily.
Results and the future
With the new interface to
access the safety datasheets, La-Roche employees are assured of receiving data that is up
to date and easy to access. Although the company continues to generate paper documentation
as a backup, the electronic distribution process has made it possible for employees to
access the data they need instantly, from any office at any time.
Ergon believes that Java is critical to the
success of safety datasheet. Without it Ergon would not have had the flexibility necessary
to complete the project on time and within budget. “Our programmers working in Java
are nearly four times as productive as those working in more conventional languages,”
said Burkhalter. “The language is simple and the GUI interface is easy to use. You
don’t have to worry about memory leaks and printer errors like you do with C or C++. As a
rough metric, he notes, projects which took Ergon a month to program in C required only a
week in Java.
Ergon will shift the majority of its
programming to the Java development platform. Burkhalter estimates that within two years,
over 80% of Ergon’s work will be written in Java. He expects that the company will abandon
C and C++ almost entirely, except where it is necessary. Java provides Ergon with hardware
independence and ease of use that is not available from any other source. “Java is
not only the language of the future,” Burkhalter says, “It is the operating
system of the web.”
Microsystems (India) Pvt Ltd
GLOBAL CASE STUDY: HYATT HOTELS
Going Up The Ladder
How Informix is helping the global
hospitality provider book business.
Application: Web/ecommerce; OLTP; Global airline/travel agent hotel
Partners: Computer Science Corp
Informix Products: Informix-Online Dynamic Server, Informix-4GL,
Amanagement organization’s stock in trade
is its employees. That means that success lies in continually improving employee
productivity and access to services-an equation that Hyatt Hotels and Resorts understands
well. To support its changing business requirements, Hyatt launched a major initiative to
upgrade and expand its computing and communication infrastructure-moving Hyatt to the
forefront in hospitality information systems. With its new Informix-based SPIRIT Central
Reservation System and ecommerce capabilities, Hyatt improves the speed and accuracy of
its reservations systems, reduces costs and positions itself for the future. The power
behind this innovative information architecture is Informix-Online Dynamic Server.
A working partnership
Hyatt is a global hospitality provider with more than 271 properties in 40
countries. Hyatt and IT partnered together in 1989 and the partnership has remained strong
even as Hyatt’s information technology division became part of Computer Sciences Corp
(CSC). Today, CSC manages Hyatt’s information requirements and commercializes its
computing solutions for the hospitality industry.
“We continually evaluate the
marketplace,” says Scott Andersen, Director of technology for CSC, “and we feel
that Informix has the best product and service offering for 24 by 7, mission-critical
operating environments. For example, the ability to perform online backup is crucial. We
also need a highly scalable database and an open systems platform. That’s why we stayed
with Informix to help us upgrade and expand the SPIRT Central Reservation System.”
Getting into the spirt of change
The Spirit Central Reservation System was originally codeveloped by Informix, AT&T and
Hyatt in 1990 to provide reservations access to travel agents, to each Hyatt Hotel and to
airline reservations staff. At the system’s core was Informix-Online Dynamic Server.
Approximately 150 users accessed the travel reservation system via dumb terminals, where
they could obtain a status on room inventory and rates. When travel agents wanted to
actually book reservations for Hyatt, they booked against inventory quoted in the airline
system. Then, a hard copy of the booking would come to Hyatt’s reservation staff on a
printer, where the information was input to the SPIRIT system database and finally a
confirmation was returned to the airline system for the travel agent. The entire process
required 48 hours.
“Approximately 25% of our business
came from the airline systems and we could only status a handful of rates,” explained
Joan Lowell, VP, of Electronic Distribution Marketing Hyatt. “The old SPIRIT system
couldn’t handle the growing volume of business rates we quoted. Business rates are
negotiated and base rates must be available to travel agents who are booking companies’
business.” The SPIRIT system clearly offered a valuable service, but significant
upgrading was required to support the company’s future business objectives.
More than just an upgrade
“Our goal was to make SPIRIT the only way to book a reservation
worldwide,” explains Andersen, “and that meant going to a system that could
support more than 1,000 users and provide electronic interfaces to travel agents and the
airline systems.” With a seamless connection and common interface to the SPIRIT
system for all users, Hyatt could provide access for more distribution channels, increase
booking efficiency and improve room inventory management.
Hyatt migrated to Informix-Online Dynamic
Server on a Sequent platform to increase the system’s capacity from 250 to 1,000 users.
The SPIRIT application itself is written in Informix-4GL. Informix-ESQL/C provides
interfaces to a wide range of global distribution systems, including the SABRE System,
Apollo, Galileo, World Span and the internet. This enables travel agents to book flights,
rental cars and hotel rooms using any of the global distribution systems. Even with
extensive planning, however, Andersen and his team at CSC weren’t prepared for what
happened next. During the system’s rollout to accommodate a larger base of users, demand
on the server exploded. Analysis revealed that inquiries coming from the web and airline
reservations systems had increased exponentially, sending Andersen searching for a
solution to cope with the unexpected volume.
Enterprise replication saves the
“We had the largest, most powerful Unix platforms available, with every slot
full and the volumes was still over-whelming,” says Andersen. “We had worked
with Sequent and Informix to come up with an innovative solution. The solution turned out
to be Informix’s Enterprise Replication.”
The central Sequent platform was upgraded to increase capacity. Using Informix Enterprise
Replication software, key aspects of the SPIRIT reservation database in Oakbrook,
Illinois, were replicated to a second, read-only Sequent configuration located in Omaha,
Nebraska, to support electronic inquiries and bookings.
“Hyatt is the world’s largest user of
Informix Enterprise Replication,” says Andersen, “and it works. Replication
makes sense for us.”
Today the SPIRIT system is a state-of-the-art reservations system for the
hospitality industry. Inventory and rate inquiries from the web and airline reservations
systems arrive at the Omaha server while the Chicago system’s capacity is preserved for
hotel and reservation center users. An unlimited number of rate combinations enhance
agents abilities to book corporate customers. Hyatt can now build applications in modular
form; perform online maintenance, charge rates and inventory values; and accommodate new
properties as hotels are acquired-all without programmers.
The increased use of electronic booking and
confirmation-far more economical than maintaining multiple 800 numbers- has significantly
reduced costs. Today, 90% of travel agents use electronic confirmation, up from 50% just
two years ago. In addition, travel agents who once booked rooms through individual
properties now use the central reservation system, contributing $900 million in revenue in
Lowell reports that the Informix
application has also improved call center productivity. Higher call volumes are supported
without increased headcount. Rate queries are answered in as few as eight seconds-a far
cry from the industry’s 20-30 seconds average. In addition, the percentage of telephone
calls that actually convert to a reservation has increased from 25 to 30%.
There’s a new spirit of excitement
Hyatt will increasingly leverage its ecommerce capabilities. Agents can currently
book through TravelWeb (www.travelweb.hyatt.com), but Hyatt plans to add more
hotel-specific information as well as maps and travel information services via the web.
“Informix is the only thing we
run-centrally and in every property,” says Andersen. “We have 19 production
databases, in addition to spirit. And we have a terabyte of disk space.”
GLOBAL CASE STUDY: KFC
The Right Recipe
How KFC the world’s leading
restaurant chain, is leveraging IT to gain that elusive competitive edge.
Informix Products: Informix-Online Dynamic Server Informix-MetaCube
KFC, the restaurant chain owned by giant
PepsiCo, recently implemented a datawarehouse based on technology from Informix and
Hewlett-Packard. The warehouse replaces a number of smaller data repositories with a
single, corporate-wide infrastructure and is expected to give KFC valuable information
about individual store performance, as well as overall customer buying practices and
product preferences-from both historical analysis and up-to-the-minute perspectives.
Getting to know your customers
"Everybody needs a little KFC," goes the advertising slogan and,
apparently, it’s not far off the mark. KFC, PeopsiCo’s $7 billion restaurant chain,
operates close to 9,000 company-operated and franchised quick service restaurants in over
70 countries-2000 of those are company-owned in the US.
When you’re the world’s largest chicken
restaurant chain, your IT department constantly deals with immense volumes of data in
order to pinpoint customer preferences. For example, what are the most current customer
demographics? What are they eating-and at what time of day? How’s the new menu item
testing in target cities? Compared to each other, how are various KFC locations in any one
The need for a new framework
Over the years, KFC has conducted data analysis using a variety of data
repositories, front-end tools and disparate systems. The problems with the existing
framework were numerous. First, although there were many tools for getting answers from
various systems, none of them worked together to form a cohesive picture of the business.
For example, queries to determine sales had to be made to one system, while queries about
product inventories had to be made to another. "The need for data analysis kept
growing and growing," explains Micki Thomas, Systems Development Manager for KFC’s
Restaurant Support Center. "We didn’t have a solid infrastructure in place to handle
the demand for information."
Michelle Wells, Director IT KFC, agrees.
"We had to get to a level of detail that the systems we had in place could not
handle, including customer transaction levels by time of day and product, for all of our
domestic restaurants. We had it for a small subset of restaurants, but we needed them
all-which required a fundamental shift in the infrastructure to support the amount of
information we wanted to store."
KFC not only had to make all of the
information available, but it also had to be easy to use. "We’re talking about
strategic planners who should be spending 80% of their time figuring out what to do with
the business, not plugging in numbers and figuring out spreadsheets," Thomas says.
"We wanted users with minimal training to do a lot of the reporting themselves. We
didn’t want to have programmers writing queries for them all day long." Ultimately,
KFC decided to build a datawarehouse with the flexibility, scalability and data capacity
necessary to not only replace all of the existing systems, but to grow as information is
added from stores on a daily basis.
Planning the perfect datawarehouse
KFC’s datawarehouse project is a model of requirements analysis, thorough
planning and subsequent execution. "We kicked off the project with a joint
application design that a consulting company helped formulate," explains Wells.
"We included our IT organization, key clients in various corporate departments and
people in the field offices in the process."
"We started out by trying to
understand all of the potential client demands for a new decision-support system. Those of
us who had been involved in putting together our existing systems determined requirements
from a technology stand point-what we needed today, as well as what we would need in the
future." The inevitability of change was a constant theme for the group, which knew
that as internal customers come and go, the demands on the system will change accordingly.
With that in mind, KFC focused on finding datawarehouse technology that could shift as
quickly as might be necessary.
The requirements formulated by the Restaurant Support Center’s project team were
that the system be open, scalable, affordable and flexible. Says Well, "Somewhere
down the road, PepsiCo’s other restaurant chains, such as Taco Bell, may want to use the
system-so we didn’t want to do anything they can’t leverage."
The team also concluded that the system
needed a consistent front-end with an ability to customize it, from an easy, intuitive
interface supplied to most users, to powerful, custom-query environments and add-on tools
that sophisticated users require.
Users told the team their most basic need
was for data to be both more timely and more accessible. They wanted ‘one-stop shopping’
for data-one place to drill up or down for as much data as they required. And they wanted
to be able to run queries on background mode, leaving their terminals free to work at
other projects or tasks.
Finally, the datawarehouse itself needed to
handle multidimensional data analysis, incremental data loading, client meta data
management, data security and ongoing performance monitoring and tuning.
In order to meet these diverse requirements, KFC chose Informix-Online Dynamic
Server, based on Dynamic Scalable Architecture (DSA), the parallel database architecture
that is at the heart of Informix’s database server product line. DSA delivers unmatched
performance, scalability and speed in enterprise-wide client server environments.
Online Dynamic Server is running on a
four-processor Hewlett-Packard 9000 series hardware platform. KFC is also using an array
of relational online analytical processing (ROLAP) tools, including:
Informix-MetaCube Warehouse Manager
Informix-MetaCube QueryBack and
With the combination of these technologies,
KFC is equipped with better customer information, which ultimately makes the company more
Putting the warehouse in place
Currently one year of data has been loaded into the datawarehouse. Eventually,
six years of data will be housed in it. As KFC staff populates the warehouse, its eventual
size is an ongoing topic of discussion. "Figuring out where it’s going to go is
probably one of the biggest challenges of all," Thomas says. "Eventually, we’ll
probably be at 200- plus GB-so system scalability is critical."