App Frees Bottled-Up Info From Big Iron

Coke supplier deploys reporting software to link legacy, supply chain data.

As the nations second-largest bottler implemented a supply chain automation system to streamline its operations and better manage production, it discovered that most of its inventory and transaction data was inaccessible to the software it deployed, Manugistics Group Inc.s Supply Chain Management suite.

The solution for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, known as CCBCC, was to deploy data movement software from Decision Support Inc. that moved mountains of customer data locked up in mainframes so it could be linked to Manugistics information on Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. databases.

CCBCC, whose annual sales exceed $1 billion, has seen a 15 percent reduction in finished goods inventory since beginning deployment of Manugistics Supply Chain Management software last year. It has implemented several of the Rockville, Md., developers modules, including ones for supply and demand management, as well as modules for forecasting, planning and production scheduling.

But because Manugistics software is not compatible with IBM mainframes—where CCBCC holds 90 percent of its legacy information—the company couldnt access millions of legacy sales transactions and merge them with real-time inventory data. Doing that was critical to fulfilling deliveries for retailers.

"I needed to find middleware that could hook up a mainframe with an Oracle or a SQL database and go across platforms and deliver mainframe data to the Web and to users," said Lisa Steves, IS project manager at CCBCC, in Charlotte, N.C.

Steves did an exhaustive middleware search, starting with traditional vendors, but had difficulty identifying any that could promise what CCBCC required.

The problem was that when CCBCC ran a Manugistics report that accessed VSAM (virtual sequential access method) mainframe files, every file would have to be read, causing the job to take "forever," according to Steves. She was looking for software that would optimize the VSAM files and optimize the total delivery of reports.

"Not that many vendors can take multiple VSAM files, find the primary key to all the data and make it look like its only hitting one data source," Steves said.

CCBCC ended up deciding between Decision Supports DQbroker product and Attunity Inc.s Attunity Connect offering, which provides integration with more than 30 data sources on 20 different platforms. While both products can access mainframe and other information, at the time CCBCCs plans were being finalized late last year, Decision Support was more financially stable.

Steves was particularly drawn to DQbroker because it could hook up CCBCCs mainframe information to Manugistics data residing in Oracle and SQL Server databases.

"Because of that fact alone, we are always going to have to do a batch load to get information out of the mainframe and into Manugistics," Steves said. "Manugistics is meant to help a company forecast, and thats what it does. What we need out of Manugistics is reports, and that hasnt been a primary focus for them. Its the same with [Manugistics competitor] i2 [Technologies Inc.]. They concentrate on what they know, but when you want to get reports out of it, its information we have to pull out of Manugistics."

Decision Support, of Matthews, N.C., started out in 1984 developing reporting tools for Unisys Corp. computers. A decade ago, founder and CEO Herb Verbesey said he saw that the mainframe was not going away but still had to fit into the burgeoning distributed computing model. So he directed the company to design a data integration and reporting product that favored no one operating system or database, and could distinguish data and push it to individual databases.

"Ten years ago, when we started developing [DQbroker], we assumed that people would jump on [the trend toward integrated systems] right away. Its really been a lot slower," Verbesey said. "Now people are calling us, and you see a lot of head of steam."

Going forward, Steves would like to see better access to Manugistics proprietary files, as well as access to Oracle data, whether that comes through DQbroker or from Manugistics directly. "Any time software is proprietary, theres a reason," Steves said. "But if there is a way to export out the information ... it would be easier to access reports."

"This is big business," Steves said. "There are companies that do nothing but try and get to Manugistics information. But what we have with DQbroker, we are ahead of the game."