Tree of Life Finds Supply Chain Answers in Datamart
September 14, 2004 Hellena Smejda
Supplier performance is a key success factor in the fiercely competitive food distribution business. How quickly and how well suppliers fill orders affects not only service to retail customers but also profitability. So it’s no surprise that the first datamart tackled by Tree of Life, an international food distributor based in St. Augustine, Florida, was the supplier datamart.
Owned by Dutch food giant Royal Wessanen, Tree of Life distributes natural foods and gourmet foods to more than 15,000 retailers across the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. Its customers range from chains, including Wal-Mart and Safeway, to independent health food retailers. Tree of Life buys 55,000 items, in hundreds of categories, from over 4,000 suppliers. Leading brands the company distributes include Atkins, Twinlab, Knorr, K?TO, Celestial, Health Valley, Ghirardelli, and Colavita, as well as the company’s own Tree of Life and Fancifood brands.
In 2003, Tree of Life management decided to regionalize its 14 distribution centers. “Management wanted an enterprise-wide and regional view, to parallel our national and regional customer base,” says Jack Parker, manager of data infrastructure. “Our large customers did not want to have to look at several separate reports. They wanted one report with all the information.”
The need for a data integration solution became apparent once the company decided to create a data warehouse. It would contain all the information needed for function-specific datamarts, such as the supplier datamart. Until late 2003, each of the 14 distribution centers across the United States was run from one of two iSeries Model 830s, in St. Augustine and Dallas. In November, both servers were replaced with one Model 870, located in St. Augustine.
SEARCH FOR DATA INTEGRATION
Tree of Life needed a way to ETL (extract, transform, and load) the transaction, supplier, and customer data into a single data warehouse repository, to gain that enterprise-wide view. Tree of Life’s IT team began looking for such a data integration tool in the summer of 2003.
One of the ETL tools they evaluated was RODIN, from Coglin Mill, an iSeries-native solution, and another well-known ETL tool that did not run on the iSeries.
“Functionally equivalent, RODIN was about half the cost,” Parker says. “With the other tool, we would have had to not only purchase the software but also switch to a new platform, add training, etc.”
RODIN is native to the iSeries, which allows users to do some things that would otherwise be more difficult, and Coglin Mill also provides a way to access data on other platforms. “We use Manugistics, which is Oracle-based, for our inbound and outbound transportation system,” Parker says. “It is important to us that when we are ready to build a datamart with that information, we can still use RODIN.”
Since Tree of Life’s parent, Wessanen, is on another platform, the added support for XML export capabilities in the latest release of RODIN is helping it. “With XML we can easily export our iSeries data to them in a format they can use,” Parker says.
In January, Parker’s IT team began using RODIN to ETL the supplier and product data from the 14 distribution center libraries into a single RODIN repository (or data warehouse). The company had its first user review in mid-February.
Meanwhile, a functional team headed by Rick Moller, Tree of Life’s corporate vice president of merchandising for Natural Foods, began to model the supplier datamart, using Stratum, a client/server datamart solution from Silvon.
By early March, Tree of Life had a datamart ready for users to review, just in time for a large industry trade show in California. During March and April, the supplier datamart was in pilot, and business managers were actively working with it in their jobs. On May 1, the supplier datamart went live for the first time.
EASY TO LEARN AND TO USE
Parker reports that RODIN was extremely easy to learn and to use, even for a non-RPG programmer. “We basically taught ourselves, using the supplied tutorial,” Parker says. “Then we had Alan Jordan from Coglin Mill come out for three days and review our approach. We wanted to make sure that we were using RODIN to its fullest capabilities. He checked that our architecture conformed to the corporate information factory concept and coached us on advanced features.”
The supplier datamart allows Tree of Life managers to track three key performance indicators, including the fill rate (or what percentage of orders are completely filled by suppliers); the merchandise and inventory turns (which is used for product category management); and deals (for ensuring that all distribution centers are getting the negotiated off-invoice purchasing incentives).
The creation of these performance indicators for Tree of Life has had an impact on the company. For example, it has been able to provide its customers with better service, thanks to “supplier score cards.” It has also improved its inventory turns and increased profit margins.
Parker credits a speedy of implementation as the crucial factor in a successful implementation of the datamart. “Without RODIN, we would still be working on integrating the data,” he says.
The first datamart has been so well received that company managers are already vying for the next datamart. “It looks like operations’ and buyers’ score card will be developed in parallel next, so we can reduce costs and further improve efficiency,” Parker says.
Hellena Smejda writes about the business benefits of information technology. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org