Jim McMasters, senior vice president of IT at Tandy Brands Accessories, was growing increasingly embarrassed by the poor performance of the company's ERP reporting tool one he initially had high hopes for. While the tool did some of the things the company's users needed, it lacked power. Then McMasters got wind of Crosswalk's iGrid Intelligent Storage System, which solved the company's problems and more.
"It woke me up," says McMasters.
He tossed out plans to implement an alternative and more traditional solution to fire up the reporting tool and instead purchased the iGrid product.
Today, the Arlington, Texas-based designer, manufacturer and marketer of men's, women's and children's fashion accessories is not only seeing a six-fold boost in the performance of its single-threaded ERP reporting application, but the platform has also enabled new uses.
With nine offices in the U.S. and abroad and three primary distribution centers in the U.S., Tandy Brands credits its success to its ability to deliver high product volumes to the retail market. Key product categories include belts, wallets, handbags, suspenders, neckwear, gifts and sporting goods. Merchandise is sold under various national brand names and private labels to all levels of retail distribution, including the ROLFS e-commerce Web site.
Tandy Brands Infor System 21 ERP application and its Pick Ticket Management System (PkMS) from Manhattan Associates are integrated applications that keep the wheels of the company's business turning, and have for many years, according to McMasters.
However, it only took a few years to realize that the ERP software's reporting tools were less that satisfactory. "System 21 is rich when it comes to information, but there's really no reporting method," he says.
So Tandy Brands' in-house programmers went to work to create a custom reporting tool. The effort turned out to be a big mistake. "We created many one-off defined reports that were a management nightmare," says McMasters.
The IT department needed to find a solution that would allow non-technical users to pull the information they needed out of a central system. Tandy Brands has about 150 users who need the reporting tool, but a few dozen power users that require an extremely robust reporting tool. The hunt was on to find out if such a product existed.
"We looked at a number of offerings that promised pie-in-the-sky," says McMasters. Then the company tracked down other businesses that used System 21 and the PkMS warehouse management product and experienced the same reporting deficiencies as Tandy Brands did. They found two businesses, both shoe manufacturers, to talk to.
As a result of conversations with the two, McMasters and his IT department found out about Diver from Dimensional Insight. According to the vendor, Diver is a data analysis, reporting and information delivery system capable of integrating the data an organization collects and stores. Tandy Brands liked what it saw and had the application up and running in 2005.
With five of the company's 11 divisions on the ERP system, Diver played well with the other applications. However, as Tandy Brands continued to add divisions to the System 21 application, Diver began to sink.
"Several things happened at the same time: Our reporting needs grew; as new divisions were migrated onto the ERP system, it added more data; and the original users learned how to use Diver and began to do more with it," says McMasters.
In a nutshell, Diver began to strain under the exponential growth in usage. "We needed to figure out how to put more pistons in the engine," he says.
That's when McMasters decided to go the traditional route and replicate data to five servers and assign users to each server. However, by January 2006, the company was strangled by the sluggishness of the process.
According to the IT executive, the company's data set was so large that they were chasing daylight to create and move it nightly. "By the end of the month, the service drops were embarrassing," says McMasters. "Users lost confidence in IT."
A Better Way
Tandy Brands needed to improve user confidence in IT and confidence in the data. As luck would have it, last spring, McMasters heard about Crosswalk's iGrid Intelligent Storage System. Intrigued by the product's concept, McMasters had a few of the IT department's techies took a deeper look.
"My crew loved it. However, it was fairly new and that scared me a bit," he admits.
According to Crosswalk, the iGrid product provides a shared single view of storage and access to a common set of volumes for concurrent access by all authorized users and applications. iGrid transparently integrates with existing infrastructures, enabling collaboration and boosting the scalability and flexibility of the entire IT environment.
Tandy Brands took the next step, which was to meet with Crosswalk reps. "They had us out to their facility, put our data on the system, and did a prototype and ran timing tests," says McMasters.
The result, he notes, was good performance and no glitches. But that wasn't enough for McMasters. "I had a consultant who had worked with us on the Diver implementation run his own tests."
More good news. The consultant was impressed too. That led Tandy Brands to begin a period of testing defined scenarios using the iGrid product in-house for about five weeks. "We rigorously tested shared data to multiple users," says McMasters.
At the end of the test period in mid-September, Tandy Brands was ready to sign on the dotted line. The iGrid Intelligent Storage System met the company's criteria; they never had to reboot the system or deal with issues of any kind.
Today, Tandy Brands has two iGrid nodes with a 7 terabyte SAN behind it. "I'm finished with headaches and hassles," says McMasters. "This product made our problem go away. Our users are now empowered with reliable and fast access to the data they need, when they need it."
With a robust system for reporting in place, users are also free to use the reporting tools in new and innovative ways. Users are interested in more training on the system, notes McMasters.
A post-sale meeting with Crosswalk reps also provided education on how to gain efficiencies using best practices for the System 21 running on an IBM AS/400. The IT department also found a way of developing new programs that's cleaner than before and a way to do prototyping using the iGrid appliance.