Building a "Trusted Source"

Data synchronization issues are no small potatoes for McCain Foods, which produces nearly one-third of the world's French fries, so the company is moving to implement a "trusted source" for product information in its Canadian division as a way of...


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 necessary — to generate completely new views. "If it's fundamentally different, then IT will have to do the first one of that ilk," explains Luby.

McCain's implementation team has worked to ensure acceptance of the new repository by bringing in the different functions affected by the project — R&D, 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. "They've seen us. We've documented things, passed it back after them, kept them in the loop. They knew what we were doing, and we've had them involved in project meetings and product meetings."

Luby did not discuss the total cost of the data synchronization project, but he did say that putting in this new process basically came down to a cost of doing business, at least initially. "This first project is to cost effectively meet external requirements," he says. That said, Luby believes the solution will 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, and 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.

As for McCain Foods, once the company gets the solution fully rolled out in Canada, additional divisions may be tapped for implementations, too. This type of "trusted source" could be quite useful, for instance, in Europe, where companies like McCain must contend with customers and entities in multiple countries, and in the United States, where data synchronization is gaining momentum. Even within the Canadian division, Luby says the company sees opportunities for additional uses of the solution, although he declined to go into any details.

Regarding the experience working with FullTilt, Luby had this to say: "I've got a lot of respect for them for doing what they say they're going to do. They're meat-and-potatoes kinds of guys." Which is high praise coming from the world's largest processor of French fried potatoes.

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