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Office Depot gets data flowing

Office Depot executive Kevin Bubeck offers his top three tips for building a smart data warehouse.

NEW YORK -- When Kevin Bubeck started as the director of information delivery at Office Depot Inc., the company...

was drowning in data. Bubeck fixed that by hiring an experienced team, setting attainable goals and framing the problem correctly. That sounds simple enough, but Bubeck's challenge was complex.

Our data warehouse was like a data jail.
Kevin Bubeck
director of information delivery,Office Depot Inc.

During a presentation at the National Retail Federation's Redefining Retail conference this week, Bubeck explained that the Delray Beach, Fla.-based office supply retailer lacked a holistic view of its data when he arrived. There were no standards for metrics or modeling and processes were fragmented, leading to incomplete and often unusable financial data. Some stores skipped inputting data entirely.

"Our data warehouse was like a data jail," he said.

With operations in 23 countries, Office Depot is a $13 billion company with 2,800 contract sales representatives. It is the third largest online retailer, behind No. 1 ranked Inc. and Dell Inc. Financial data arrives from 1,000 retail outlets every day, and needs to be accessed by thousands of users.

Bubeck's first step was to assemble a team of experienced data warehouse professionals.

"It is not about great technology, but about applying it properly, and getting the right people to do it," Bubeck said.

Then he set an attainable goal. Bubeck decided that his staff should strive at the outset to save the company $1 million.

Setting such a concrete, attainable goal is a good way to help businesses get started on complex, wide-ranging projects, said attendee Alan Markert, a consultant with Houston-based Holland & Davis LLC. "The first project out of the chute should be attainable," he said.

Then Bubeck developed a very basic framework for the project. His team worked only on processes for receiving, storing and accessing data. Everything else would be set aside.

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Implementing SAP BW

Bubeck did not have to tear systems apart and start over. The company had enjoyed success with some of its previous implementations, such as its use of NCR Inc.'s Teradata CRM and business intelligence software from MicroStrategy Inc. But because of a lack of standards, those successes did not transfer to the rest of the organization.

For example, many employees found the business intelligence software hard to use. However, when it was used, it worked well. Bubeck's group redesigned the interfaces and trained the employees on the software. As a result, employees were happier with the software and used it more often.

Ultimately, Bubeck was able to create a business intelligence system where everyone, from salespeople to board members, was able to access the same current and valid data.

Attendee Anne D. Banks, a systems development manager with Johnny Appleseed's Inc., said the Beverly, Mass.-based women's clothing retailer faced some similar problems tracking its financial information. Appleseed's, a much smaller business than Office Depot, cannot afford such an elaborate data warehousing project as Bubeck's. But she said the approach is the same.

"Hire competent people, develop a plan and follow through," Banks said. "That is the key."

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