Dallas Cowboys Built for More Than the Gridiron

By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2007-10-30 Print this article Print

The Dallas Cowboys' head technology coach picks an ERP system to be the company's next Troy Aikman.

With Super Bowl XXX the last big win in the Dallas Cowboys history—and Super Bowl XL11 looming on the horizon early in 2008—one of the most prolific dynasties in NFL history is not only rebuilding its team, its rebuilding its IT systems. The Dallas Cowboys Football Club is ditching spreadsheets and white boards in favor of the Microsoft Dynamics AX Enterprise Resource Planning suite. Just as head coach Wade Phillips is gearing up the team for the playoffs, head of technology Peter Walsh is prepping the IT team for the next era in the companys history. And like Phillips, Walsh knows his reputation is on the line in choosing ERP (enterprise resource planning) software that is going to carry the team—and the company—forward.
"Ive done about seven ERP implementations in my past life. I felt that for this company I had the dot on forehead to make the IT recommendation that would be a good fit to scale," said Walsh, in Irving, Texas. "The biggest challenge is were a medium-sized, family-owned company. We felt that some of the [systems we looked at] would have been overkill for us. We wouldnt have been able to scale back or up to the level we wanted."
Not only are the Dallas Cowboys one of the most winning teams in NFL history—theyre one of only two teams to ever win three Super Bowls in four seasons—theyre one of the richest teams, with an estimated value of about $1.5 billion. To read about how Microsoft has quietly rolled with its Dynamics technology platform, click here. Part of that legacy is the sheer amount of businesses under the Cowboy umbrella. By Walshs estimate its businesses total about 30. To add complexity, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is building a new stadium, which will seat about 80,000 screaming fans, scheduled to open in time for the 2009 NFL season. The stadiums IT systems are included in the Dynamics AX implementation. "There are more than 30 companies that we run, and one is the football club," said Walsh. "We have a merchandising company, oil and gas company, a storage company and each one is separate and distinct. If Ive got to [manage] that on a spread sheet, I dont have a consolidated look and feel to see where I am at." Currently midway through the Dynamics AX implementation, Walsh said he has a consolidated view of the Football Clubs financials. By the time the implementation is complete in the middle of 2008, he will have the entire enterprise on the system. "If we look at just merchandise, thats wholesale and retail—the entire supply chain—so not only am I managing the entire supply chain, but Ill have the front end on a Web portal where manufacturers can check on all of my merchandise, as well as people who are buying from us can not only look at orders but place orders," said Walsh. In addition to the Dynamics AX suite, Walsh said he is also implementing Manhattan Associates warehouse management system, which will manage everything from merchandising inventory to the concessions at the new stadium. At the same time Walsh is putting an RFID pilot through its paces that could help automate everything from inventory to ticket sales. "With the new stadium, its right about three times the size of the current Texas Stadium," said Walsh. "Anything we do with RFID will be important [considering] that size and magnitude. Weve been able to do a pilot for inventory accounts. RFID chips cut down on our account cycle time by 87 percent. We try to put that into manpower—if I can press a button and all my merchandise says I am here I can cut [that process] down to seconds rather than hours." Click here to read more about Microsofts RFID infrastructure. In November, the Cowboys first merchandising system will be fully online. By March of next year, Walsh will have fully cut over to the new ERP system, and by that time he wants to be able to present the RFID studies and analysis to the Jones family. "Right now were finishing the infrastructure piece [for the stadium]. Once weve finished that we can determine what will run on top of that," said Walsh. "Were trying to figure out, is there value [in the ability to] download a ticket on a PDA or a season ticket holder card where an RFID chip passes a turnstile and it knows who [the customer] is, what seat they have. Were evaluating what really makes sense and whats too expensive." Walsh said the Football Club will likely go with one of its business sponsorships to partner for RFID technology, a niche Microsoft fits into nicely. And despite being a Microsoft shop, Walsh said he evaluated the leading ERP systems on the market—SAP, Oracle Financials, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and Dunn & Bradstreet—before going with Dynamics AX. In the end, Walsh decided to move in the same direction Microsoft is going with the convergence of its four ERP suites, rather upgrading the Football Clubs current Dynamics NAV implementation. Walsh said in assessing each vendors roadmap—where they were going, where they were coming from—it looked like Microsofts Dynamics line that consists of GP, SL, NAV and AX, will all come together into a single product around AX. "In the Football Club we run NAV," said Walsh. "Since we know where the [Dynamics] product is going [I figured] lets jump on today with AX so I dont have to make any big changes," down the road. "Were just a football team, but when you look at it, we have a lot of disparate businesses. And as people transform from business-to-business, AX gives us the speed and agility to move forward."

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