Eventually, McCain decided to move toward establishing a centralized repository for the company's product information, starting in the company's Canadian division — which employs about 3,300 people, has 11 processing facilities and represents a considerable percentage of the total frozen food dollar in Canada. The idea was to set up a storehouse of product attribute data that would incorporate transformational capabilities so that users could set up customized, reusable templates with the proper information and formatting required by individual customers, industry registries like ECCnet and other requesters. This "trusted source" of product attribute data would be fed from other systems within the company.
Luby and his team finally settled on an application called I-Accel from solution provider FullTilt, which is a Web-based product information management solution that offers a shared enterprise-wide repository, configurable workflow and role-based security. The solution was designed to help companies aggregate and create product data from disparate sources and to standardize it using product domain expertise and industry standards.
McCain and the solution provider announced the selection of I-Accel in September 2003, and the deployment went live in February for retail products, feeding weekly updates to ECCnet for 300 attributes, as well as the company's Canadian Web site, mccain.ca. The solution will not replace the company's ERP system as the master record for certain data, such as part number, but for information such as a product's official recipe, the "trusted source" will be the I-Accel database.
Getting the database established and the necessary "hooks" connecting the repository to other systems has been relatively straightforward, according to Luby. "This is not rocket science," he quips, noting, however, that in order to feed external requestors the company has had to go through a largely manual task of "cleansing" the data, whether for the individual requests or for feeding the database. Currently McCain intends to populate the database with just under 100 different attributes for some products to several hundred attributes for others.
Altogether about a half-dozen people within McCain's Canadian division will be responsible for the "care and feeding" of the Canadian data repository, but the system will be open to whomever within the division needs to access it to provide product information to a customer or other entity. The system allows users to configure "views" of the data to be sent out, and average users will have the ability to set up new views to a certain extent. But McCain will also have a number of "power users"" who will have the ability and the administrative permissions to generate completely new views.
McCain's implementation team has worked to ensure acceptance of the new repository by bringing in the different functions affected by the project — research and development, marketing, sales — from the very beginning. "One of our keys to success will be that they've been part of this right from the start," says Luby.
Luby believes the solution will also lend a certain competitive edge to McCain, at least in the near term. "When someone wants to know this or that, we can quickly respond to them, versus someone else who has to dig through their systems and has to tell the customer, 'We'll get back to you in a week or month.'" In today's business environment, he notes, delays in providing information can result in missed sales opportunities and lost revenues.
Such projects, of course, hold the potential for ancillary benefits, as well, such as increased efficiency through the elimination of manual and duplicated effort, in addition to higher quality data. A.T. Kearney, for example, has reported that some $25 billion to $50 billion is lost each year due to supply chain information inefficiencies born of poor vendor-retailer data synchronization. The consulting firm has estimated that 30 percent of item data in retail catalogs is in error, at a cost of $60 to $80 per error. Clearly data synchronization holds significant potential for new efficiencies and savings.