Fast Data: Real-Time Analysis Makes For Rapid Response

Why the push to become a real-time business? For most companies, the motivation has to do with better execution.

According to InformationWeek Research's Real-Time Business 2003 survey, the most-cited reasons companies hasten information distribution are, in order: business agility, lower costs, improved visibility into key performance metrics, and customer service. Just over half mention supply-chain efficiency.

Schneider National Inc., a transportation and logistics company, has several projects to speed the business of transportation by driving data faster. It's adding real-time financial-analysis capabilities to its Collaborative Visibility Network, a hosted service used by auto manufacturers, suppliers, and trucking companies to track service parts through the supply chain. The system lets them track inventories, ship dates, volume, and arrival times. "We think another step forward is when you associate the freight cost to the movement," says CIO Steve Matheys. For instance, the exact cost to ship a brake assembly from Detroit to Denver will be known when an order is accepted, and any subsequent changes can be reflected immediately in the system. "That's going to start establishing a different dynamic in the supply chain," Matheys says. Schneider also is developing what Matheys calls a real-time dynamic planning engine to optimize how it moves goods -- whether via a one-way truck, its dedicated truck fleet, a third-party trucking company, or train.

Better monetary controls are an imperative at many companies, with 76% of the 261 survey respondents saying finance and accounting departments would benefit from faster access to information. Visa International is considering business-intelligence software from Oracle as a way of giving analytical tools to the institutions that issue its cards. "We're looking at self-service tools so they can access any data they need immediately and drill down and do their own research," says Gretchen McCoy, Visa's senior VP of global business solutions.

7-Eleven Inc. is deploying a supplier portal and E-procurement app, also from Oracle, to bring more automation to its supply chain. The people who order everything from snack foods to Big Gulps will have data at their fingertips. "They're going to see suppliers and orders on the fly, negotiations, contracts, RFPs, all as they happen," CIO Keith Morrow says. Kind of gives new meaning to the term convenience store.

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