AutoZone Shifts Into High Gear With New Reporting Solution
National Retailer Uses WebFOCUS to Tune Up Operational Reporting at 5,200 Stores
AutoZone attributes its success to its ability to provide customers with the right parts at the right prices. Each of its more than 5,200 stores carries an extensive line of parts for cars, SUVs, vans, and light trucks, including new and remanufactured hard parts, maintenance items, and accessories. Many stores also have a commercial sales program that provides commercial credit and prompt delivery of parts and other products to local, regional, and national repair garages, dealers, service stations, and public sector accounts.
Since opening its first store in 1979, AutoZone has leveraged technology to grab the lead in the automotive aftermarket industry. Using a highly efficient business model for logistics and distribution, the company has grown steadily for more than three decades. In 1989 AutoZone began using a Store Management System (SMS) to help keep stores stocked with the parts customers need. Soon after, it became the first auto parts retailer to register customer warranties in a computer database. In 1994, AutoZone established a satellite system to broadcast parts information from store to store. The company also has an active online presence.
It’s an information-intensive business, and that’s why business intelligence (BI) is so important.
In the past, the IT department generated most of AutoZone’s corporate reports from a mainframe system at AutoZone’s Store Support Center. While these reports were adequate for monitoring basic activities, as the company grew, managers soon discovered they needed additional reporting capabilities.
AutoZone turned to Information Builders WebFOCUS BI platform, a move that has enabled the company to continue its tradition of technical leadership. WebFOCUS is used throughout the entire organization – from HR training and annual reviews to store operations, wholesale sales support, and customer satisfaction reporting.
“We wanted to obtain a general-purpose reporting environment that could reveal operational metrics to our management team on demand,” says David Glasscock, director of operation support at AutoZone. “Ideally, this reporting system would be available to our users in the field, so individual store managers could access pertinent data when they needed it. WebFOCUS is giving our store managers access to data that they couldn’t access before. Our reports are timelier, more accurate, and more consistent. That makes a real difference in our operations.”
Calibrating Custom Reports for a Remote Workforce
Information Builders demonstrated a platform-agnostic solution that could run on Linux, AIX, and even a mainframe Linux partition. Additionally, each developer license came with eleven days of training. At the time, other BI vendors didn’t offer such training.
“We didn’t want a reporting environment that could only be understood by analysts,” Glasscock says. “Instead, we needed a user-friendly system that would encourage people to create reports in an intuitive way. WebFOCUS was less expensive than the other BI solutions, and easier for our employees to use.”
Due to its thin-client deployment architecture, remote users only need a standard Web browser to access the WebFOCUS environment. This is ideal for AutoZone because it enables the IT department to control the data on the reporting servers, yet managers at individual stores can help themselves to the information they need.
Instead of continually creating new reports, Glasscock and his team are building a library of reports that managers in the sales, HR, and finance departments can access when necessary.
Moving Into the Fast Lane With Report Templates
Another thing AutoZone likes about WebFOCUS is its ability to access multiple data sources simultaneously – including flat files from the mainframe, text files, and relational databases. Installed on a Linux platform, WebFOCUS uses iWay Software integration adapters to seamlessly access data from DB2 databases, Informix databases, and flat files. In some cases, data is loaded into data marts that have been pre-sorted and structured for operational reporting. In other cases, users access data from production data sources directly, and even pull data from two different types of databases into a single cohesive report.
Glasscock especially likes the way WebFOCUS uses reporting templates to let users specify report dimensions, calculations, measures, and other variables, all through a standard Web browser. For example, one report reveals how well the stores are complying with AutoZone’s inventory
WebFOCUS enables timely, accurate business data to be transformed, in real time, into richly formatted reports that can be accessed by everyone across the organization. AutoZone’s BI environment delivers information to more than 5,200 stores, 400 district managers, 50 regional managers, six divisional vice presidents, and 200 users at headquarters – between 10,000 and 20,000 users total.
Putting End Users in the Driver’s Seat
WebFOCUS includes dynamic load-balancing technology to transparently route report requests among servers, ensuring rapid and consistent results.
“We’ve sized the current environment for our needs,” says Glasscock. “As we expand our reporting environment and the workload increases, we can add additional reporting servers that have been clustered to ensure good reliability and performance.”
Fulfilling AutoZone’s commitment to customer satisfaction means always having accurate information about key performance indicators (KPIs), sales, and labor requirements. Glasscock says WebFOCUS helps AutoZone meet these demands by delivering information that makes everyone in the organization more productive.
“The biggest benefit I see is in consistent, timely reporting,” he says. “We can move very quickly with this product, which means we can update and change our reporting strategy based on the evolving needs of the company. WebFOCUS gives us a lot of flexibility as we respond to the needs of the automotive market.”