Welch's is the world's leading marketer of Concord and Niagara-based grape products, ranging from refrigerated juices and sparkling juice cocktails to jams, jellies and a variety of single-serve products. The Welch's brand is sold throughout the U.S. and in more than 35 countries and territories around the world. Welch's fills around 50,000 orders annually and spends more than $50m on transportation and distribution. Earlier this year, the company implemented a solution from Oco Inc., Waltham, Mass., to provide needed business intelligence for the supply chain. Bill Coyne headed that effort for Welch's and Michael DeCerbo was the Oco program manager. DeCerbo also participated in this conversation.
Q: What were the business intelligence issues that Welch's was dealing with before it partnered with Oco?
Coyne: Last September we implemented a company-wide ERP system from Oracle. Prior to that, we had used a home-grown legacy system and a separate freight pay system. When we wanted to compare last year's transportation cost information to the current, we had to pull data from two systems. We wanted to combine this data and generate reports that would allow us to better understand and manage our transportation costs. The Oracle system didn't have a module that met these needs. I don't know if that is still true today, but it was at that time. We were wrestling with what to do about this when Oco called on us. When we looked at their solution, we knew right away that it would do the job for us.
Q: Can you give us an idea of what they showed you?
Coyne: The Oco team came in and met with our group and conducted a structured profiling session to understand what our management team expected for reporting and how Oco needed to optimize the user experience. They came back in a very, very short period of time with a proposed solution that came quite close to meeting our total needs. Using our data and working with our folks, they constructed actual reports that showed us what we would be getting.
I really think Oco deserves a lot of credit in their approach to this. We are all used to tackling IT projects where you sit down and describe your needs. Then the IT folks, based on their understanding of your needs, develop an original draft of your solution. You look at it and it's usually not very close to what you were trying to convey or what you really want. So then you go through a process of amending that draft to get it to represent what you meant to ask for and what you really need.
Oco came in with a very structured, professional profiling session so that the first time they came back to us with their understanding and grasp of what we had asked for, it was very, very close to what we wanted. And the time frame was fast. In fact, it may have been too fast for us. So we were very, very pleased with the entire delivery process.
Q: How does it work?
Coyne: First of all, let me say that I think that Oco under-sells its solutions by calling what you get from it 'reports.' They are way more than reports in the traditional sense. Each report is actually a cube or a mini data warehouse that we previously would have viewed as maybe a dozen reports. One report, for example, allows us to go in and understand all of our transportation costs in a host of different ways-either by carrier or by state or by city or by customer or by weight category or by time frame or whatever. Oco calls that a report, but I think it is way more than that. It allows us to get a much sharper look at our cost structure and at our transportation operations with a vast amount of information that is easily accessible to us.
The beauty of it is that every night we send over every data element or every field on each freight bill that was paid and on each bill of lading that was shipped and on each customer order that was received that day. All of that information goes into a data warehouse at Oco and then Oco simply says, 'Okay, you now have every bit of information on every customer order and every bill of lading for every shipment and every freight bill all residing in a data base. You can report on that and slice and dice that information any way you wish.
Q: Did you also enter historical data?
Coyne: Yes, I believe we put in data from fiscal year 2005 on, so just short of three years of history. Having this information allows us to do year-over-year comparisons, which is important if you are analyzing and tracking costs.
Mike DeCerbo can explain a little more about that process.
DeCerbo: During our initial profiling session with Welch's, they identified that they would like to do analysis covering three years so we established three years of historical data as part of the project. In Welch's case, we pulled data from two other source systems as well, using a process and proprietary tool called Oco Connect. We are able to then tie all that information together so we can report on it in a meaningful manner. Finding where that data is and pulling it all together in our data warehouse is part of our delivery, part of our standard solution. Our proprietary data warehouse, which we call the Intelligent Data Schema or IDS, is a consistent structure that we apply to all customers, which allows us to deliver reporting in a much faster manner-implementations typically are completed in six to 10 weeks.
Q: So you host the solution?
DeCerbo: Yes, our product is a software-as-a-service business intelligence solution. That means that we host the hardware and the software and we take care of supporting the infrastructure and the ongoing maintenance. This also enables our customers to select which reporting functions they want to use. For Welch's, we provide the transportation reporting module, but our solution has a number of other modules based on functional areas in the supply chain and across the business.
Q: Bill, can you give us some examples of how you are using the information you get from this system in your operations?
Coyne: As everyone knows, fuel costs and energy costs are increasing, so one thing we have been doing recently is to analyze each of our major customers, looking at their order patterns and order sizes. We then can work with them to try to increase order sizes to fill out the carrying capacity of a truck, to a full truckload if possible, as opposed to having more, smaller orders that might result in unused capacity. Of course, some customers don't have that kind of volume, so in those cases we are consolidating orders to build full truckloads ourselves. We are looking at our performance and our efficiency in building truckloads and searching for ways to better use capacity to save on costs and fuel.
Using the Oco tool we also were able to analyze the number of orders and volume that we handle by day and look at the days where our shipping operations were actually overloaded versus days that were lightly loaded. Surprisingly, we found that in many instances we ourselves were creating orders that contributed to the overloading through programs where we manage our customers' inventories or through orders to move products between our plants and distribution centers. So going out and moving those orders from the heavy days to the lighter days was something that was easy to do and it's really something we couldn't see in our old system.
Q: Was much training required?
Coyne: That's a very interesting aspect of this solution-virtually no training was required. It's very intuitive. We joked internally that learning to use Oco is about as difficult as learning to use Google. So everyone uses it-power users and everyday staff. It's very, very easy to slice and dice data across the data warehouse, pulling information of all different sorts, pulling it together, comparing it and drilling down as needed. It's so intuitive there aren't even help screens. They aren't needed.
Q: Do you have any plans as yet to expand your implementation?
Coyne: I can say that we are so pleased with phase one that we are talking about a second phase. In a second phase, we would be looking at doing a couple of things. On the small side, we want to refine a bit what we have done so far to get some additional information. In particular, we want to be able to see fuel costs or fuel surcharge expenses as a separate item. We also want to make a few tweaks to the original structure just to give us a little better input into the cost of our operations.
The larger thing we want to do is to expand our use of the software from managing costs to also managing service. We are considering using the Oco application to begin tracking on-time delivery. We would have every carrier that we deal with provide to Oco-through the web site or a screen unique to them-the delivery date and time of every order that they handle for us on a daily basis. Oco would then consolidate that into a data warehouse that would allow us to report on on-time performance in a number of different ways-however we wanted to look at it.
This is information that we actually had captured in our old systems, but that we have not been able to capture with Oracle. In addition to restoring our ability to track on-time delivery performance, we also want to get much better reporting than we had before. With Oco, we will be able to look at on-time delivery by shipping warehouse, by distribution center, by customer or by carrier. When a shipment is late, we will be able to see why it is late. It is a much more robust tool than we have ever had before.
We are still in a growth phase. We have only been using Oco since late January, so almost every week somebody has an idea about a new way of using it.
Oco Inc. www.oco-inc.com
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