A Map of Where
to Go and What to Tweak"> The result was a detailed map of how information flowed throughout Consortium, which Linn said led to an equally detailed RFP (request for proposal) that the company showed to potential vendors. The RFP delved into obscure needs such as how book returns had to be handled and fed back into Consortiums accounting system. It listed necessary entities, attributes, fields, tables and relationships among tables, and more. When Linn and Goodell interviewed six finalist vendors, each had to demonstrate how it would execute precise situations that Consortium expected to encounter. "We were really able to compare apples to apples and see the gaps in different products," Goodell said. Consortium decided to use Microsoft Corp.s Navision ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, "and there was never any question in anyones mind whether wed made the right choice," he said.Implementing tweaks Goodell said he also saw an immediate need for improved executive and management reporting, without waiting for the installation of all new systems across the organization. (At this point, the decision to use Navision had not been made.) His team first used Popkin System Architect to map out the data that resided on Consortiums old Pick databases and then re-created that structure on a Microsoft SQL Server data warehouse. Goodell said he next wrote a program that would copy information from the Pick system into the new data warehouse nightly; when Navision finally replaced the Pick databases, it used the same data migration program and enabled fresh reporting daily. Finally, Goodells team used .Net and Crystal Reports software from Business Objects S.A. to create a Web-enabled front-end system to generate reports. The new system went live in December 2003. "Its the basis for everything we do," from operations and warehouse management to sales and marketing and financial accounting, Linn said. "People are constantly checking inventory levels ... tracking where books are being sold and feeding that information back to our publisher clients." Now book sales are recorded throughout the day and converted into Web data. Linn said Consortiums publishers can access their accounts anytime to examine, nearly in real time, which of its titles are selling well or poorly. From there, they can work with Consortiums two dozen sales representatives to plan marketing efforts for good sellers or to scale back attention on duds. "Its all live. Its all right there," said Larry Rood, president of Gryphon House Inc., a publisher of childrens books in Beltsville, Md., that uses Consortium. "Theyre giving us exactly what we want." The total cost? Nearly $1 millionand worth every penny, Linn said. Since 2002, he said, revenues have gone from $11 million to $22 million; profits have tripled, and revenue per client has jumped from $160,000 to $300,000. The efficiency also lets Consortium pursue larger clients that expect such sophistication, Linn said, and his customer base has grown from 70 to 100. Employee head count, meanwhile, has gone from 43 to 50. Linn said he cannot be more pleased with his companys turnaround in sales and growth, thanks to an IT overhaul that transformed his business operations. "I set out to buy software," Linn said, "and ended up going through this very valuable process." Matt Kelly is a freelance writer based in Somerville, Mass. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
To read more about Microsofts acquisition of Navision, click here.