SCN Podcast: National Vision's SAP EIM Journey

podcastlogo_jonerp.gifPodcast: Listen Now!
Vendor Podcast - An Interview with Louann Seguin, VP of Information Technology and Strategy at National Vision, about how they used SAP EIM to transform their information architecture.
An SAP SCN Community Podcast
Hosted by Jon Reed of JonERP.com
Podcast Interview Date: May 9, 2011

If you can make one generalization about ERP customers, it would be that they all struggle with data integrity and information architectures. In this Business Analytics Community podcast, Jon Reed talks with Louann Seguin, VP of Information Technology and Strategy at National Vision, about their journey with SAP Enterprise Information Management (EIM). From their early data warehousing efforts to a new, cutting edge point of sale project, Seguin tells the story of how National Vision expanded their use of Data Services from a data warehousing focus to a complete information architecture.

During the 20 minute podcast, Seguin also shares how they involved their business users in the process, enabling business users to access customer data from a centralized location. National Vision's use of EIM tools for real-time data cleansing and access shows how they are shifting their IT focus from custom development to strategic integration. In the second section of the podcast, SAP's Mike Keilin joins the discussion, asking Seguin about how IT involves business users. Jon then gets the latest info from Keilin about EIM resources on SCN and how to continue the EIM conversation there.

Editor's note- SAP EIM links of interest mentioned in the podcast: EIM landing page on SCN, EIM Use Case Wiki, Data Services Wiki, EIM e-learning, EIM Forum on BAC. Also follow the SAP EIM team on Twitter.

Podcast Highlights

1:00 Louann's background and her role at National Vision. Louann: I'm in IT, but I come from a business background, so that has helped me to bring the best of business into IT, and to serve as the connection between IT and business here.

1:20 National Vision has been on an "EIM journey" for several years now - how did that journey get started? Louann: A number of years ago, we determined we needed a better information retrieval and storage system so we embarked on a data warehousing project. At the time, we settled on BusinessObjects data services. This created an audit trail from the source systems to the data warehouse to the Business Objects universes to the reports themselves. It gave us a lot of visibility along that journey.

2:48 You've talked about several phases in your EIM process - can you tell us about each of these three phases? Louann: As we were using the Data Services tool, it dawned on us we could use it for many areas beyond the data warehouse. So we embarked on an enterprise information planning and architecture process. We looked at consolidating our data services. As a retail organization, we have a lot of information on our stores, and that information was spread out in many sources. We did a lot of things to consolidate that into one source, then we used BusinessObjects Data Services to take the data from that single point of entry to the applications that needed it. That's how we went beyond a data warehouse to building an information architecture for the company.

4:25 Pulling all your customer data into one repository is no small feat. What were your business users able to do with that data from there? Louann: We populated a number of applications that consumed the data, for example we used Web Intelligence quite a bit, Crystal Reports, Xcelsius Dashboards. This gave business users access to the data while maintaining integrity to an underlying information architecture.

5:20 Now you're talking about point of sale integration. What will the process of implementing SAP EIM at the point of sale look like? Louann: Before I get into that, one key point to set up the point of sale. We moved into a data quality initiative to address data quality across a range of customer data sources. We're using Data Services to cleanse and standardize all that data. It standardizes their names and addresses, and we also use the change of address database from the USPS to update our database. Then we use Data Services to create a centralized customer hub. So, all of our customers from our various source systems are linked together form a single global ID. That gives us the ability to see a customer across the various touch points and across the lifecycle. This is very helpful to our business users to analyze our costumers.

This ties into our point of sale in a couple ways: We use Data Services to send data from our point of sale systems to various downstream applications, such as our payroll and ERP systems. We have also acquired some companies along the way that require integration. During the acquisitions, we also used Data Services to move data from their systems into ours. We completed all our systems integrations from our acquisitions within six months. We are now implementing a new point of sale system, and we plan to get into more real time with our Data Services. Traditionally, we had been using ETL for this, but now, we're planning real-time calls using Data Services. We'll use web services from the point of sales to move retail orders to our labs to start working on it right away, and then into our ERP systems for real-time visibility and reporting. Another point of sale example: as an employee enters customer information, they will use a real time web services call to do an address cleanse on the fly. This makes it easier to link point of sale information to the rest of the data for that customer.

10:10 What kinds of lessons from your SAP EIM projects would you share with other SAP customers? Louann: start small, develop internal skills, and use your imagination. If you just think of EIM as a tool to use in business intelligence scenarios, you're missing out on other ways of using it within the enterprise.

10:44 What kinds of skills should be cultivated for this kind of project? Louann: even with my main programmers, I'm moving them into more data integration skills. As IT is evolving, we are doing less development. My IT staff is changing more from developers to integrators and stitching all these systems together. So it's about database skills and integration efforts, understanding how data moves through your system.

11:50 What further improvements would you like to see from SAP with the EIM solutions? Louann: I would like to see more change management best practices incorporate into the tool, such as change management with data flows and jobs, and versioning to move jobs from test to development to production.

12:30 Jon to Mike: As you've been listening to this discussion, is there a question or clarification you'd like to ask Louann about? Mike to Louann: How did you approach your interaction with business colleagues in each phase of the project? Louann: We worked with our business users very, very closely. Our IT team members were present at all strategy sessions and even at process engineering meetings. In modern enterprises, IT is everywhere. If you just keep IT in the background, you're ignoring a strategic direction your company needs to consider. We usually have a co-functional team across departments along with members of IT before we embark on any type of project. We really listen to them to understand their needs and pain points. We want to know how we can improve their productivity and increase their productivity on projects. I've come to the conclusion that some people can't imagine doing things a different way. You have to learn how to help people think about their jobs and business requirements in a different way, and guide them through the cultural change process.

16:15 Mike to Louann: With EIM projects, there are always data issues. Since National Vision doesn't have a formal data governance group, how do you interact with the business on this? Louann: at the beginning of the EIM projects, we initiated some basic Master Data Management guidelines. One rule was: if there is an error with the data, clean it up at the source, don't wait to fix it after the transforms. We also worked with the business to come up with agreed upon metrics and definitions and how data relates to that.

17:45 Jon to Mike: For our listeners who want to get more involved in with EIM conversations on SCN, what are the opportunities to get involved? Mike: The SAP Community Network is very important to our EIM community, and it's growing quickly. From an EIM perspective, there's a lot to talk about besides simply ETL data and movement as Louann has described. We are always working to ensure we have the latest and greatest information. Our EIM forums have over 500,000 messages, we have blogs, wikis, e-learnings. We also just launched an EIM use case wiki. This is a place for our customers and partners to learn more about EIM use case scenarios, and it's organized by topic and by forthcoming releases. You can check out these resources on the SAP EIM landing page.