Q4bis Streamlines BPCS Reporting for U-Bix Konica Minolta
March 29, 2005 Alex Woodie
Tony Day knows a thing or two about effective use of IT. The general manager of technical services at U-Bix Konica Minolta of New Zealand recently accepted an iSeries Innovation Award at the COMMON conference in Chicago for his company’s capability to hook its back-end BPCS system up to its customers’ copiers in the field, and to its own Palm Pilot-wielding field techs. Day sat down with IT Jungle at the show to discuss another successful IT project: his company’s use of the Q4bis reporting software.
The iSeries is critical to U-Bix Konica Minolta, as the platform holds the company’s most valuable data. The core application running on the iSeries, the BPCS ERP suite from SSA Global, helps run the company’s daily business, which is selling and supporting printers, copiers, and other office equipment from Konica, Minolta, HP, OKI, and Brother. U-Bix, which had been the exclusive distributor for Konica in New Zealand for 31 years, recently joined forces with the Japanese subsidiary of the merged Konica Minolta group, and now employs a staff of about 400 people at 13 locations across the island nation.
While the iSeries provides rock-solid data management and application logic, the OS/400 server’s native greenscreen queries were a hindrance to efficiency, rather than a value-add. Instead of helping Day and other executives find the information they needed, they found the reams of detailed reports very cumbersome to use and difficult to understand.
“BPCS running on the AS/400 was extremely reliable and great for what it was designed to do, but as far as a basis for business intelligence and management reporting, it was woefully inadequate,” Day says. “The reports that we were generating had so much detail that it was hard to see the forest for the trees.”
The company attempted to alleviate some of the complexity by offloading production data into a Microsoft Access database, and then building reports off that data using Excel spreadsheets. This provided some U-Bix employees with the data they needed, but the process was complicated and often yielded dissimilar results — due to different logic and timeframes – compared to the BPCS reports.. “We knew we needed to do something if we wanted to keep up with the marketplace,” Day says.
U-Bix had been a customer of Cosyn Software, a New Zealand company that writes OS/400 auditing, systems management, and spool file software, and serves as the New Zealand distributor for several other software companies, including BCD Software of Chicago and Q4bis of Irvine, California. Trevor Middleton, Cosyn’s managing partner, recommended that U-Bix take Q4bis for a spin.
SQL Server Reporting for OS/400 Data
Q4bis is a Windows-based business intelligence tool that has been on the market for 20 years. The current version of the software is based on SQL Server 2000’s Analysis Services OLAP architecture, and uses a unique four-paneled Windows interface that’s this product’s ease-of-use hallmark.
(It’s hard to believe that somebody could actually learn to use a sophisticated business intelligence product in five minutes from instructions printed on the back of a mouse pad. But that is exactly how Q4bis and Cosyn recommend people learn to use the product, and it seems to work as advertised. Users say the product is fairly simple to learn, and that they can learn more as they use it–a training model all software developers, particularly IBM and its WebSphere, should strive for with their products.)
The Q4bis interface enables users to view ERP systems data in a way that can be more intuitive to people accustomed to graphical interfaces (which is most everybody these days). The software lets users arrange the columns and rows of data to their liking, which allows them, for example, to sort sales revenues by region, by month, or by salesman–anything, as long as the data has been imported from the production box. The software also offers color-coded key-performance indicators (KPIs) to give users quick recognition of changing conditions in their businesses.
It didn’t take long for Day to make his decision after Cosyn completed a proof of concept for U-Bix using production data off U-Bix’s BPCS system. “I’d been looking at this data for years in various and sundry formats, but when I saw how Q4bis presented the information, I was sold,” Day says. “The actual decision to go with Q4bis was a no-brainer.”
It took about two weeks for Q4bis to be implemented at U-Bix. This implementation process, which requires an understanding of DB2/400 database architecture and mapping out ODBC connections to the SQL Server database, can be shortened to 10 days with the Rapid Implementation Methodology service offering. This RIM offering takes advantage of the years of experience Cosyn and Q4bis have with integrating the business intelligence software with the DB2/400 databases of popular ERP systems, including BPCS, J.D. Edwards, Movex, and Baan, as well as several non-OS/400 ERP and CRM systems. The Q4bis implementation at U-Bix was completed about 12 months ago, Day says.
U-Bix performs nightly data dumps from its BPCS system into the Q4bis multidimensional database, which provides current data from which 40 to 50 users generate reports –provided they have the proper clearances to access the data. “Q4bis ties directly into SQL Server, so we have a direct view into our entire database, updated daily,” Day says. “From there we can access all sorts of views and generate specialized reports to our heart’s content, usually with just a few clicks of the mouse.”
U-Bix uses Q4bis to monitor many aspects of its business, including inventory, sales, and the profitability of service contracts. Day says the software has enabled U-Bix to make much more accurate predictions about the profitability of service contracts in certain sectors. “We can pinpoint which individual contracts or models are not profitable, and design programs to address the issues, and then monitor progress,” he says. “In the past, most of our reports usually just resulted in more questions.”
Q4bis starts at about $50,000 for licenses for about 50 users, and can scale up over $100,000 for an unlimited number of seats. The RIM service offering adds another $10,000 to $15,000 to the cost of a contract. Cosyn is the main provider of the RIM offering for BPCS, while Q4bis partners with other companies for hooking into other ERP systems. For more information, visit www.cosynsoftware.com and www.q4bis.com.