If so, you'll be happy to hear that ACS has big plans to enhance the whole area of Business Intelligence. To aid in that development, we conducted a Business Intelligence Forum on Wednesday, October 8th. It was well attended, with 24 individuals representing 16 Advantage clients. As with past Advantage forums, the purpose of this session was for ACS to present product enhancement ideas in order to get feedback from youour clientson those ideas. Your thoughts are critical to us because we want Advantage to continue to meet your evolving needs and to help your business to prosper and grow.
To get started on the right foot, we needed a working definition of Business Intelligence (BI). In my typically brilliant fashion, I borrowed from another's definition to suggest that Business Intelligence deals with the kind of reporting related to helping individuals make business decisions. Contrasting this with operational reports and detailed transaction reports may help clarify. For example, a "Daily Briefing" bar-chart showing sales volumes for each of the last seven days relative to this year's current daily average gives you the kind of information that could help you to make decisions, whereas a detailed listing of each sale by customer type - although good information to have - is less useful in decision-making.
Dick Hile, VP of Product Engineering, jumped in to show some examples of the types of analysis ACS is considering. In addition to the Daily Briefing, Dick presented examples of a Trend Analysis view, a Comparison report, and a Snapshot view. Whereas a Daily Briefing would show activity over a short period of time, a Trend Analysis view covers a much longer period of time such as a year. A Comparison view could compare activity over the same period in two different years, or two similar entities at a point in time (e.g. circulation status for two different subscribed products side by side). Dick also displayed desktop gadgets showing up-to-the-minute summaries, which were big attention-getters for the attendees.
Dick then went on to explain what is going on "under the hood". The Advantage BI module is built on the tools found in MS SQL Server 2008 (building on any prior investment in SQL Server and Excel you may have made). These tools would be used to:
Collect data needed by the various BI reports and store it in a data warehouse. The benefit of this approach is to simplify report building by reducing the available fields to just those needed and by giving those fields more meaningful labels. If the data warehouse is stored on a different server, a second benefit is to minimize activity on the Advantage production database.
Build a summarized data store (data cube). For reports needing to process a lot of transactional data, this method will make reports run faster.
Present available reports in a simple and organized way to end-users via their web browser.
MS SQL Server 2008 offers some very useful features not found in prior versions. Our BI approach provides scalability by allowing the BI components to be installed on your Advantage server, or to be spread out across several servers. It's up to you. ACS will be benchmarking a single-server configuration similar to what we expect many clients to deploy initially. We will share the results of the benchmark to date at the January AUG conference.
Tim Zapawa, VP of Client Services, joined Dick and me for the discussion period. During this session, the attendees offered some very valuable comments. The general tone expressed indicated high interest in this step forward. Also, many expressed their support of using MS SQL Server as the standard "engine," yet had some reservations regarding the cost of needed infrastructure. This is just the type of feedback ACS is looking for, and we are addressing it. To ensure that this module will not require significant hardware and infrastructure expense, we are designing it to run on a single server. However, as stated earlier, it will be your choice whether to run it on one server or more.
We asked the participants to confer with their colleagues and send more suggestions to ACS on what type of reports they would like to see in the BI module, and we encourage you to do the same. We can't wait to incorporate the feedback and then show you our progress towards getting a full suite of BI reports rolled out to the user community at the AUG meeting in January. We'll give an update on BI Module development including deployment options, supported reports, and target delivery revisions. We're excited already about showing you the prototype and discussing release dates with you. Make your plans for the AUG conference now -- you won't want to miss it!
Bayard Presse first went live on Advantage with its subscription fulfillment and marketing operations in July of 2007. Bayard is one of the top five publishers in France and circulation of their 45 publications - serving the youth, senior and religious markets - totals more than 2.8 million. Bayard has approximately 250 users who provide customer service and perform order processing. These users are distributed mainly between four service vendors, along with some outsourced operations in Madagascar and Slovakia.
When Bayard decided to implement Advantage, they had a global strategy: to develop a multi-channel, multi-product and customer-centered fulfillment and marketing operation. Due to the large scope of the project, it was divided into two phases. Phase I laid the foundation with the implementation of subscription products and Phase II will allow Bayard to employ more of its global strategy as it brings books and other products online.
Components of Phase II include Product Order (PRO), Book Club (BCL), and a Web integration project.
The PRO project is expected to provide the following benefits:
- simplify the organization by adding PRO activity to the existing structure (internal set-up, vendors used for subscriptions, etc.) which will provide some cost savings
- improve customer relationship management by having all information about a customer in one record
- allow marketing of products and subscriptions together
Phase II of the Advantage implementation (PRO), is now underway, and will be used to fully integrate the catalog business with the periodicals business. PRO activity will cover a large range of products, including books, CDs, special issues, videos, toys and a "bazaar" for the three market segments, as well as combined orders with subscriptions. It will provide Bayard with Important new cross-marketing opportunities based on buying patterns of subscribers and readers ordering books and CDs.
Implementation of the Advantage Book Club module will allow Bayard to market and sell book series to special interest groups. Using the Book Club module, Bayard plans to grow this segment of their business.
The Web project is targeted for June 2009. The expected benefits of that implementation include:
- cost savings from reducing the amount of data entry vendors needed when customers can perform their own customer service tasks online
- ability to make digital offers
- additional sales ability using Advantage features
In the Website integration, Bayard is redeveloping their website to incorporate eCommerce integration with Advantage. At this time, they will also redesign their eCommerce websites, with new graphics, more ergonomic s, and features for making new marketing offers. The web integration will be done in conjunction with an upgrade to 2009R1, to take advantage of 24/7 availability and integration with the Access Management and Billing (AMB) module. Bayard will use AMB as a strategic tool for expanding business with readers in all segments. As this part of Phase II is completed, Bayard will implement AMB to control access to online digital content for their youth market readers.
The Product Order and Book Club parts of Phase II will be completed for a January launch, and eCommerce functionality go-live is targeted for early summer 2009. Phase II will be a major step forward in Bayard's use of Advantage as a strategic system for enhancing their product offering and streamlining their services for readers. ACS is excited to see the important strides this major French publisher is taking to leverage the functionality provided across the breadth of Advantage modules.
This month, the focus is on Oakstone Publishing in Birmingham, Alabama. They joined the Advantage community in 2000.
Oakstone Wellness Publishing
Oakstone Wellness Publishing (d.b.a. Personal Best) is a provider of health and wellness materials to the workplace. We publish 16 monthly newsletters, reaching more than 1.3 million readers each month in workplaces all around the US and worldwide. Our flagship publications are the newsletters "Top Health" and "Personal Best Healthlines." We are also a leading provider of non-periodical health-focused products, from brochures, posters and walking journals to our award-winning "Year of Good Health" calendar series.
We offer many of our products in English, Canadian English, French Canadian and Spanish, and in print and electronic versions. Many of our products, including the newsletters, are highly-customizable. Our customers are able to add their own touches for the end-readers, from simple company logos and messages, to fully-custom newsletters and calendars.
Personal Best uses Advantage for processing all orders for our publications and products. We have about 35 people accessing Advantage throughout the day. We also have an interactive website, linked directly to Advantage for order processing, and we are expanding this to include order and customer related modifications. Personal Best uses the following modules: CIR, PRO, ARP, ADM, TEL, INV, WEB, and CPN along with the standard SVC, MST and SAL modules.
Personal Best is also in the process of implementing the LST module, as well as considering adding CRM and COM to our system, in an effort to streamline our operations.
We consider our relationship with ACS to be more of a partnership than a typical vendor/customer relationship. "One of the things that I love best about Advantage is that it evolves!" says Lakisha Cooper, Client Services Supervisor. "Any time there is a need to change, split or create a home for specific data, Advantage makes it possible."
"I appreciate the knowledge and professionalism of the Support Center staff and programmers who have assisted us over the years," says Kristi Tate, Director of Operations. "In addition, training is very important to us. We want to grow our internal knowledge base in all the areas of Advantage that we use. The Webinar series has been very useful for this."
One of the things that we really enjoy about ACS is their willingness to help us find new ways to utilize Advantage to meet business needs. Our Account Manger, Evelyn Acton, who is also the Support Center Manager, facilitates much of this. Evelyn works so closely with Personal Best on Advantage-related needs that it almost seems as if she should have her own office in our building.¹
¹Editors Note: Sorry, Neal, we need her here!
Today, October 20, 2008, is the first day of live production after OSV's upgrade to 2008R2 this past weekend. It's the 100th Advantage upgrade of the 21st century, says Upgrade Manager, Paul DesRosiers.
"It's core to our business," says Paul, "that clients are on the latest release possible. Frequent upgrades are key to client satisfaction and also make support more efficient for us."
"It's important to us to stay current with the software," says Joe Wixted, Manager of Publishing Business Systems at OSV. "We targeted an upgrade to 2008r2 in order to tie into another project going on at OSV and also to take advantage of its new features; specifically support of the ONIX standard."
It's our goal at ACS for the majority of Advantage clients to be on releases within the last two years.
ACS recently concluded a highly successful 2008 Training Week at our office in Ann Arbor. In attendance were 33 Advantage users representing 19 ACS clients. The classes offered and the instructors who presented were as follows.
- Circulation Production and Analysis Reports - Karl Davis (October 7)
- Administering Your Advantage Environment - Tim Zapawa and John Sheehy (October 7-8)
- Using SQL for Systems Analysis Tim Zapawa and Levi Hyssong (October 9)
In addition, a half-day forum on the Business Intelligence Module that is under development was held on the afternoon of October 8. Dick Hile, Tim Zapawa, and Corey Mantel led this session which, with 24 participants, enjoyed the highest attendance of any Training Week session.
As always, a highlight of Training Week was the annual "field trip" to Whirly Ball of Ann Arbor on Tuesday evening. Now under new ownership, the facility has been freshened up and, more importantly, the cars seem to move a bit faster than in the past. The ratio of intentional crashes to points scored was roughly 5-to-1... and we do mean roughly. A number of participants seemed to be moving rather gingerly when class resumed on Wednesday. Identification of the most serious offenders is being withheld pending a possible investigation!
ACS highly values the evaluations received from Training Week attendees. The feedback received this year was quite positive, though we are paying special attention to the suggestions noted on the forms. We look forward to hosting an expanded Training Week in 2009. As part of the planning process, we will seek input from clients on what training topics are of interest to you.
Thank you to all who attended and to those who did not hope to see you next year!
We recently facilitated our annual Training Week (TW) event at ACS. As with all of our TW sessions, many ACS people spent a lot of time preparing course materials, setting up rooms and equipment, and coordinating staff to make this a successful event. You might be interested to know that more than 150 hours went into preparing for the System Administration and SQL for Systems Analysts courses; more than 120 pages of course material were newly developed for just the system administration course alone. Numerous engineers and systems analysts also collaborated to develop the BI (Business Intelligence) presentation where we presented an array of reports and data warehousing examples. Given the large turnout and the class evaluation responses, many seem to agree that this was one of our best training events ever.
There was a good mix of experience represented among the group of TW participants. Some attendees had many years of experience using Advantage, while others had hardly touched it and TW was their first visit to ACS. Of course, the veteran attendees weren't easy on the neophytes during the whirly ball tournaments. No official reports of injuries, but I understand that Ken Nemerovski is now seeing a chiropractor.
The evaluations contained many positive reviews on the TW courses. A strong component we use to determine what TW courses are offered each year is to analyze what our clients are doing -- or not doing. In the case of the BI Forum, we've gauged a strong interest among our users in analyzing and delivering key metrics and important business data to the organization's decision-makers. While Excel and Crystal Reports can often provide the BI necessary for an organization to make important decisions about the business, we've been seeing our customers' requirements continue to evolve where more comprehensive and BI solutions are necessary to rapidly identify potential opportunities and determine how to best capitalize on them. This is where we think our Advantage BI module will help you succeed; the TW event was the opportune time to review our BI framework and seek your input on the types of BI tools that will soon be available to you. While we had an excellent turnout among our clients, we hope to see a lot more during the Augment meetings in January where we'll be providing another BI review along with more detailed information on the module and planned release window.
The system administration and SQL courses were developed in response to recent system audits at some of our client organizations. In each of these audits, we uncovered major items. Although the operations management personnel often felt certain that their operations were running smoothly, our detailed systems audit uncovered numerous areas of concern, some quite serious. We often see that our clients are not performing all the required administration tasks in an optimal way, due to things like changes in personnel, or not fully understanding enhancements to the application.
In addition to providing a comprehensive approach to administering Advantage, the system administration class addressed many of the issues uncovered during these audits at various client sites. The class covered all the major aspects of Advantage including security, maintenance, reporting, user and process management, and systems administration. If you didn't attend the class, I encourage you to talk with your ACS representative about scheduling either a comprehensive systems audit or a session of the Advantage administration class, or both. The audit can be done in 2 to 5 days, depending on the level of sophistication of your usage of Advantage.
Advantage is a sophisticated tool, with so many features, options and choices that there are an infinite number of ways to configure it. To optimize your knowledge of Advantage and to maximize its value to your company, we highly recommend ongoing and advanced training, as well as periodic systems audits. This investment is well worth the cost, as it will ensure you have knowledgeable people operating a smooth running system that is being used to the fullest.
Ask anyone who the go-to analyst in the Support Center is, and most people will answer: Molly. An eight-year veteran of the department, Molly Mathe has accumulated a deep knowledge of the software and worked her way through many a thorny issue.
Co-worker Doug Moore has this to say about Molly: "Molly has always been the go-to analyst for just about anything in CSD (Customer Service Division). I've brought countless questions to her cubicle door-step through the years, because she has tremendous technical skills as well as application level skills."
Another colleague, Angie Markel agrees. "Molly knows a lot about a lot!" says Angie. "She's also very efficient at troubleshooting, and great about assisting other analysts."
Molly enjoys the diversity of problems she encounters. There's no such thing as a routine day to her, because each one brings eight to ten new puzzles to be solved. Molly likes that challenge, and the fact that she rarely gets the same question twice. She also enjoys the teaching aspects of the job. She is called upon periodically to lead Webinars or training classes during ACS Training Week, and to perform training at client sites.
Molly has been interested in computers since childhood. She wrote her first computer program at age 8. (On a Commodore, she thinks. Remember those?) In college, Molly majored in written communication, with a minor in computer science. She loves English (especially grammar) and thought she wanted to be a teacher. However, when she found that the education program required more years than she wanted to spend, she decided to rely on her computer skills. After a brief stint working at a bank, she joined a computer software company, working in the support area. There, she found her true calling. With her ability to quickly grasp issues and figure out how to resolve them, she was a natural at providing software support.
Molly came to ACS in 2000 and has played a key role in the Support Center's development. When asked what she could say about Molly, her supervisor, Ev Acton responds: "What can't you say about Molly? She's witty, highly intelligent and really knows her way around the software and the database. She can solve almost any problem and works incredibly well with engineers, clients and analysts. She does an excellent job of figuring out knotty issues and is always willing to assist others whenever possible. She's well received and respected as an ACS Trainer, too."
As head of the Technical Support Team, Linda Lorenz works with Molly nearly every day. "Molly is enthusiastic, detail-oriented, has a great memory, is a good communicator and is always willing to help," says Linda. "Also," she adds, "Molly has a constant supply of candy available at her desk!"
Another thing Molly has in constant supply is her smile and quick wit. She enjoys puns and other plays on words and can always be counted on to supply a laugh or two at a meeting. Co-worker Greg Sharp sums it up this way: "Molly brings joy to the office in the form of delicious baked goods (you've gotta try the cheesecake!), a bottomless candy dish, and an off-beat sense of humor."
Molly lives in Ypsilanti with her husband, Mike, and their first-grade son, Noah. Oh, yes, and the family cat, Barney, named after The Flintstones' Barney Rubble. In her spare time, Molly watches movies and spends time with Noah. To relax, she enjoys reading suspense thrillers. Maybe because they are mysteries to be solved and that is something she does so well.
Oakstone recently implemented a modification that streamlines their quoting process, and they couldn't be more pleased. David Barron, a senior account manager from Oakstone, couldn't say enough good things about it. He said that it cuts down the time it takes to prepare a quote by 90%! What used to take an hour and a half can now be done in about ten minutes. The mod has also improved accuracy, as it pre-fills much of the information needed.
Ginger Gardner, Oakstone VP of Sales, is impressed with the professional look of the quote, and also appreciates the time savings with the new mod.
"The thing I really like about the quote mod is that it allows us to pull the sales rep info from the sales rep customer record," says Neal Hawkins, Database Manager. "On this form, the AMGR phone, title, and return fax are all coming from that customer number, with the Sales rep coming from the customer's record. Very cool!"
The mod came about during a recent trip to Oakstone to demonstrate some new modules being considered. In the course of that demonstration, Ev Acton and Corey Mantel also showed enhancements to the Teleservices (TEL) module. The people at Oakstone were pleased with the new TEL screens that were part of the new release, and discussion arose about a possible modification. Ev and Corey ended up scoping out the mod to streamline Oakstone's quoting operation right then.
The mod is now in place and the Oakstone staff is thrilled.
In her new position, Ellen works with Tim Martin on the "Doco" team. She has been assisting Tim in writing release notes for the upcoming release and also on converting online documentation to written form. Her duties at ACS also include spending some hours in the Children's Center, working with the pre-school age kids. And since French is the first language other than English that Advantage supports, Ellen's knowledge of French also comes in handy in the office.
Ellen and her husband, Karl (yes, she is married to ACS' own Karl Davis, Manager of Implementation and Engineering Services), live in Ann Arbor with their son, Michael, a sophomore in high school. Middle daughter, Lauren, is a college student and their eldest child, Katherine, is working at her first full-time job as a pre-school teacher in Tucson, Arizona.
Eric Burbeck has joined the Major Projects group, led by Tim Zapawa, as an assistant systems analyst. After a couple of internships in the group, Eric recently became a permanent employee. He is currently working as an assistant project manager, helping PM Angie Markel with a large upgrade project.
An Ann Arbor native, Eric is a graduate of the University of Michigan. He has always been interested in computers and business and enjoys technical challenges. In his current position, Eric likes digging into elusive issues for clients and coming up with potential solutions.
Still an Ann Arbor resident, Eric enjoys outdoor activities such as rock climbing (the sport climbing variety) and mountain biking.
It has been three months since our last spotlight on support and we are thrilled to share all we've been working on with you. While continuing to providing all our production clients round-the-clock support, this quarter has been very exciting. The Advantage Support Center has welcomed several new clients including Bayard Presse, in Paris, France. And many existing clients have either been ramping up for their upgrade to the next release; or they have completed their upgrades and are transitioning back into the support center, itching to utilize all of the new features the software has to offer.
We also want to announce that the Webinar schedule is back from summer hiatus. The first Webinar of the fall season, "Handling Back Orders in Advantage," was presented recently by Support Center Analyst Molly Mathe and had 29 attendees (the average Webinar attendance is 14). If you've somehow missed the buzz on Webinars, click here to learn more.
Did you know that support center analysts routinely go on-site to deliver customized training and consulting? This quarter, we have had analysts training clients on the new CDSREQ - report request screen, data entry including scripting, inventory and product order.
The support team provides regular assistance during the three QA releases each year, including assistance for software modifications. We love it because it gives us a chance to roll up our sleeves and dive into the software! We think you'll be pretty excited when you see what's all packed into your next release.
Here we are in the last quarter of the year, which means as a member of the Advantage User Group Steering Committee, we've been busy working with the committee to ensure the 2009 AUG Conference is the best ever! ACS will be on hand in Orlando in January providing updates on the software, demonstrating what's new, recapping the forums we've held to gather your valuable input for the software, and sharing our vision of where the industry is headed and what we are doing to help you be ready. If you're new to the user community and want to hear more about the Advantage User Group click here or call the Support Center!
As always, we appreciate your business.
We are excited to provide two new Webinars in the month of October.
Come discover the ins and outs of the Customer Service module. It's a great way to freshen up on the latest features or to simply find some hidden tips and tricks. The "Order-Entry Processing Integrity Checks" Webinar will be presented by Mike McCarren on October 22nd.
Later in October, we'll provide you with some in-depth trouble-shooting information that might come in handy when working with the WEB module. We'll also explore the Capsule Workbench and how it can be used to develop your WEB or API interfaces. Doug Moore will present this webinar on October 29th.
Please visit the Webinar page for further registration information.