Varsity Delivers Analytical Solutions for Shippers
March 31, 2009 Alex Woodie
Varsity Logistics last week unveiled a collection of new business analytics products that are aimed at putting more usable information into the hands of shipping operations managers. The new products include TransData, a prebuilt data mart designed to crunch historical shipping data that runs in the IBM i (OS/400) environment, and ShipView Plus, a browser-based reporting tool that includes dashboards and drill-down capabilities.
Varsity has been working with System i business intelligence software developer New Generation Software for the past year in the creation of ShipView Plus, which was originally scheduled for release last summer. As software development projects often evolve, the product took a little longer than originally expected to build and test, but now it’s ready to go.
With ShipView Plus, Varsity has a delivered a pre-configured reporting tool aimed at the hundreds of customers who use the company’s transportation management systems (TMS), ShipSoft-Parcel and ShipSoft-Freight, at more than a thousand distribution centers. The software, which is based on New Gen’s SmartView reporting product, is pre-configured with templates that display their TMS-resident data in the form of dashboards, maps, and interactive charts that let users slice and dice or drill down into data to get a better handle on the state of their shipping operations.
ShipView Plus can also output data into Excel or other standard formats, giving customers even more control over their reporting needs. This allows managers and analysts to find needed information, without requesting assistance from their IT department.
This will allow customers to do more with less, says Varsity’s senior director of marketing, Andrew Karpie. “The majority of our customers have not been able to individually make the very large investments necessary to transform transactional shipping data into consistent and usable historical data,” he says. The new BI products “make getting to that information, and the cost reductions and performance improvements, not only feasible, but also economically attractive.”
Version 1 of ShipView Plus is closely tied to TransData, and relies on that pre-configured data mart to prepare the relevant data from the TMS and keep it current; future releases may use other databases, according to Varsity.
TransData, which Varsity developed in-house, provides a powerful, database-driven engine in support of users and their information requests. The product basically consists of a set of joined DB2/400 files that are refreshed nightly, Karpie says. “It builds an ongoing, highly detailed, daily history that would not otherwise exist,” he says.
The first release keeps tabs on about 100 DB2/400 fields in the TMS products, including items such as carrier numbers, parcel weights, package types, invoice numbers, and so forth. This continuously updated data is fed via ODBC or JDBC to ShipView Plus or any other front-end reporting tool, including DB2 Web Query, Crystal Reports, or Microsoft Access.
Varsity plans to add more functionality to the product in the areas of auditing, packing, and order-fulfillment. “Our vision is to provide visibility and analysis across the whole order-to-delivery cycle,” Karpie says.
One of Varsity’s first ShipView Plus customers is Astro-Med, a $72 million manufacturer of specialty high tech printing systems, medical instrumentation, and test and measurement instruments. The Rhode Island company has been a Varsity customer for years, and decided to see how the new analytics package could help uncover data stored in the Varsity TMS.
According to Astro-Med’s Marc Vadeboncoeur, Varsity could have a winner with the new product. He says it offers a “compelling analytic value for the typical Varsity client” that ships a large volume of parcels and freight internationally and domestically.
The most compelling feature, according to Vadeboncoeur, is “the ability to do the direct copy-and-paste from an analytics drill-down table into Microsoft Excel. That, in and of itself, is probably worth the price of admission. It’s flexible, fast, robust, and there’s no Windows Server required, just the iSeries and a PC.”
The two Shipping Analytics products are available now. ShipView Plus requires TransData and includes a version of that data mart, while TransData can be licensed separately and used with other front-end tools. Pricing for ShipView Plus starts at about $10,000. For more information, visit www.varsitynet.com.