As companies expand, the task of keeping track of their operations and the state of customer accounts becomes increasingly difficult and existing systems can start to buckle under the strain.
For international parcel distributor Lynx Express, a number of acquisitions and new contracts led to the company doubling in size in less than three years. As a result of this rapid expansion, Lynx found it was using an increasing number of different operating systems to store customer information and financial data. This was making it difficult to access up-to-date business-critical information and receive a clear picture of total revenue, profit levels and the status of individual customers' accounts.
The company, which is based in Nuneaton, Warwickshire and has 35 sites across the UK, wanted to improve visibility across its business and provide its sales, commercial and operations staff with more up-to-date customer information. The challenge was to integrate the various systems and the data they held in a common repository to create a single view of each customer and the state of their account.
About two years ago the company began looking into datawarehousing. Lynx's IT director David Brown says the decision to choose datawarehousing was a simple one. The choice of product, however, was less straightforward.
The company considered a number of products. At first it looked at an offering from Oracle. "We did quite a lot of work with Oracle and were close to taking it to the next stage with them," says Brown. But then Lynx saw a product called Nucleus from datawarehousing firm Sand Technology.
"When we went through the Sand model the technology excited me," says Brown. "What they were able to demonstrate in terms of capacity, ease of implementation and overall cost was fantastic. And Nucleus was a fraction of the cost of the Oracle product."
Apart from the price, a major benefit of the Sand offering was that the company would not have to spend a lot of time and money modifying its back-end systems. "One of the interesting things Sand claimed is that you don't need to normalise your database," says Brown. This was a major issue for the company as its back-end was based on legacy systems such as database management system Pick, and it was using ODBC (open database connectivity) to access those databases.
Having decided on a product, the company set about working with Sand on a proof of value/proof of concept pilot.
Lynx wanted to use six months of transaction data in the pilot, information that was been held in five different systems. Three months were spent setting up the pilot, running it as "a co-ordinated project". And then Lynx bought it. "Simple as that," says Brown.
Reconciling the five different systems was a major task, says Brown.
"We were able to demonstrate to the whole business that the use of a datawarehouse was fundamental to the way forward." He says that certain elements of the company had been doubtful at first but when they saw what the system could achieve and the cost savings that could be realised those doubts disappeared. "We have achieved total buy-in," he says.
In effect, the company is still using the same system it used in the pilot scheme. But whereas the pilot used just six months of data, the system currently holds two years' worth and the business benefits are greater. "You can build a clearer picture of each customer over a greater period of time," says Brown. "It is the fundamental basis to any core customer relationship management [CRM] strategy."
The company uses the system to create up-to-date reports for key departments, such as its regional sales teams, so that they can access "territory" reports every Monday using a Web browser. By analysing this information sales staff can monitor customer behaviour, identify any variations and act on them quickly.
"The nature of our beast is delivering parcels and Nucleus gives us the opportunity to bring in operational key performance indicators," says Brown. This in turn helps the business to assess the effectiveness of each of its operations.
Brown believes a further benefit will come when the company overhauls its back-end systems. "It will allow us to convert from one system to another very easily," he says.
The company spent about £250,000 on the system but is happy with the level of ROI that has been achieved. "It has allowed us to fill the holes in our business and claw back significant amounts of money," says Brown.
By giving a clearer view of customer accounts Lynx was able to see which customers owed most. It has also freed skilled IT staff's time and led to reductions in IT spend.
Sand provides support for the system and Brown is in regular contact with the company's contract manager. He describes the relationship as easygoing, adding that the company is willing to provide advice and training, although problems seldom arise. "They know our business well and are quite eager to help but we have little need to bother them," he says.
The next stage of the project will be to provide access to all Lynx staff. Brown says that Nucleus will be an essential tool in the development of the company's CRM strategy and in the meantime the company will continue to reap meaningful benefits.
"It has proven itself and is now a very important tool," says Brown. "In terms of going forward it is the fundamental component. It is our central repository."
International parcel delivery firm Lynx Express needed to integrate its various operating systems to gain a clearer, more up-to-date view of its business
The company invested in technology from datawarehousing firm Sand Technology
- The company has a clearer view of its operations
- IT spend has been reduced and IT staff time released
- Key operations staff have access to detailed, up-to-date customer reports
- The company achieved significant return on investment immediately after the pilot project