John Ghrist Agency
customer success example
Hitting a Homer with Odyssey
By John Ghrist

Successful companies that supply goods to other businesses or consumers understand that their supply chain operations are all-important. Solutions that may have been adequate in the past are unacceptable today. If an enterprise resource planning (ERP) or supply chain application doesn't let employees or business partners access data easily, doesn't provide an enterprise-wide data source whose elements agree with each other, and doesn't lend itself to helping users redesign business processes when that's needed, it's outdated. But what if all three are true?

That was the dilemma facing Bosselman Companies, a diversified corporation headquartered in Grand Island, Nebraska, that includes travel services, convenience stores, trucking, and fuel sales under its corporate umbrella. In fact, Bosselman sells more than 30,000 unique items across all its businesses. By early 2004, Bosselman didn't just need a way to control its supply chain for a few goods or materials, it needed a cost-effective means of integrating multiple companies and industries into a single enterprise system.

Just Not Good Enough

"The key business problems with our old system were that our employees had limited access to operational data and ERP functions, we didn't have a 'single version of the truth' for our product lines across all our business entities, and we didn't have any software features that could help us redesign our business processes," recalls Harry J. Galbraith, Bosselman's IS director. Although there wasn't a specific incident that required a software change, realization that there had to be a better way was an evolutionary process.

"Over the years, we identified many projects intended to make information more available to users and add functions necessary to improve business processes," Galbraith remembers. "These projects often required the integration of multiple vendor products, but the license fees and integration costs were staggering." Galbraith was always on the lookout for a new solution. "I reviewed several ERP products for midsized corporations and dozens of applications designed for departmental or integration functions" over a period of years, but none met all of Bosselman's needs.

The Hunters Go on Software Safari

In 2004, Galbraith set up several exploratory teams to find a solution. The teams were made up of division heads and operational managers and had a technical component of a project manager, application and systems analysts, and hardware technicians. Committee members served because of their functional expertise and their willingness to participate. Because such an exploratory phase is considered part of ongoing business process and review, "The exploratory phase costs were monitored but not formally budgeted," notes Galbraith. The teams decided that the minimum requirements for a new solution were that the software operate on the company's two iSeries model 520s and one model 270 running V5R3 of OS/400, offer browser access to information, and let Bosselman modify business processes at the application level without affecting future software updates or requiring major modification costs to satisfy the unique business process requirements of Bosselman's several different industries. Because Bosselman relied on Oracle/J.D. Edwards' World ERP solution, "Some research was aimed at replacing World while other research focused on enhancing World and making it more accessible to more users," Galbraith notes.

The Bosselman teams identified the company's Travel Center locations and handling their inventory control processes as an early priority. "The search list was narrowed down by vendor reputation (emphasizing references), platform support, functionality, and licensing costs," Galbraith recalls, "and then that short list was further refined based on expected implementation costs. Most vendors didn't make it to the 'demo' stage."

The winner of the search process was Odyssey, an ERP application from Mid-Comp International Pty. Ltd., an Australian company with distributors in the U.S. Odyssey is a supply chain system that's Java-based (and therefore platform independent and runs on the iSeries), offers a browser-based interface to application functions and data, performs realtime system updates of financial views, and supports Bosselman's multicompany requirements for warehousing, distribution, financials, and other supply chain functions. Odyssey also offers purchasing, accounting, management reporting, service and warranty administration, and other features.

Odyssey is based on IBM's Express Runtime, which combines WebSphere Application Server Express and DB2 Universal Database Express Edition. Express Runtime includes tools for application development, solution assembly, and deployment, which let Mid-Comp build Odyssey around Express Runtime.

Software ownership of Odyssey let Bosselman take control of the product's future, and unlimited user licensing circumvented the license-fee problem that had been such a stumbling block for past business-process revision projects. A Bosselman team went to Mid-Comp's Melbourne headquarters to test the software for four weeks. After that team gave its OK, an implementation team made up of exploratory team technical members took over and worked with Mid-Comp to achieve implementation and data migration tasks. Final deployment took place with help from a three-person team from Mid-Comp for six weeks, and Bosselman launched its new system on April 13, 2005.

A New Mindset

Odyssey implementation is ongoing as it's rolled out to the different aspects of Bosselman's business. "There are several projects in process. Our overall timeline is approximately three years to replace our World software with Odyssey and implement Odyssey in divisions that previously had no access to software," Galbraith points out. "Scope creep due to change requests has been our key delay factor. But most of these change requests are based on user requirements with justifiable business benefits. That can be very beneficial in the long run."

The implementation of Odyssey has already had some significant effects. "The Travel Centers' inventory-control phase of the project was complete by summer of 2005," Galbraith reports. "Our data analysis has helped us discover many products that are not moving or are generally overstocked. We've projected a $300,000 reduction in inventory at our largest Travel Center based on what we've seen so far." But the most significant benefits may be intangible ones.

"The implementation has created a new mindset within the company," Galbraith explains. "Having a tool that we can use to affect nearly every aspect of our operations has changed the way we approach business problems. Being able to minimize project constraints enables us to use more creative energy on the business problem rather than working around software functionality and business constraints, a huge change in mindset." Galbraith also reports a significant change in how the company views project management. "For example, you can take requirements analysis directly to the implementation phase because Odyssey reduces the risk associated with mismatching software functions and business-process requirements."

Bosselman's plans for Odyssey will let the company add to its business procedures the ability to operate multiple receiving processes based on vendor and location using wireless devices, perpetual inventory and warehouse tracking, user-defined product categorization to enable benchmarking between and within industries, and a general-purpose query builder for all users. "All of our employees will be more productive because of the improvements to our business processes made possible via Odyssey," Galbraith confidently predicts.

(Reproduced with kind permission of SystemiNEWS. For additional examples of articles by John Ghrist, see, click on "Archives," then the "Author" tab, and enter "Ghrist" in the author search window.)

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