Shuffle Master Puts its Money on a PortalBy Carol Hildebrand Print
Shuffle Master, a casino equipment maker, found a quick way to get more from its customer relationship management and planning systems—and avoid a full-blown integration project.
When people talk about winning big in las vegas, they wish for Lady Luck on their shoulder, but Shuffle Master, the manufacturer of automatic shuffling machines and chip counting products, found her to be too flighty a companion.
Prior to 2005, the company had been relying on a fragmented sales and order processing infrastructure that was making it difficult for company employees to find integrated and reliable business information. For example, sales forecasts were issued several times each quarter, but were of limited value to salesmen trying to meet their quarterly goals because the numbers were stale by the time they were issued.
What was behind the lag? Shuffle Master was using Microsoft's customer relationship management system, which didn't talk to the company's Great Plains enterprise resource planning system—a package purchased before Microsoft's acquisition of Great Plains. While Shuffle Master could have integrated the two, doing so would have caused problems with the technology-averse sales force, a cadre of poker players turned salesmen.
The sales team continues to use a stripped-down CRM tool to report when they've made a sale or lease, typing or calling in very general information such as "shuffler lease." That information is then handed off to Shuffle Master's sales and fulfillment staff, which gets more details such as parts numbers and depreciation formulas and then enters that data into the planning system, according to Shuffle Master executives.
"We would have had to build some sort of data translation between the two systems or re-educate the sales force to use a more full-featured CRM," says Bryan Greene, Shuffle Master's information-technology director. But the company, which saw revenues grow to $113 million in 2005, up by 33% from 2004, didn't want its sales team slowed or distracted by an unwanted technology implementation.
Still, company executives knew they had to quickly collect, analyze and respond to sales and other information—in one place—if they wanted to continue growth, says Paul Meyer, president and chief operating officer. For example, with a clearer picture of what's going on in the market, slicing information by product line, by salesperson, and by actual versus pending sales, Shuffle Master managers can better focus sales-force efforts to put more effort behind an under-performing line of shufflers or games, or give incentives to nail a big sale that nails a quota.
"When we were growing, little attention was paid to integrating our systems, and problems were given a Band-Aid fix," Meyer says, explaining why the system wasn't improved sooner. "When that happens in a $25 million business, it's okay, but at $113 million, Band-Aids don't work anymore."
Creating a way to improve the collection and analysis of sales and other business information was Greene's brainchild. "I wanted to get us under control and under the concept of one truth," he says. "Everybody needed to be looking in one place for information."
The solution: a portal, built using Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2003 software, that pulls data on demand from more than 60 production SQL Server databases into an SQL report database that contains every customized report built by the I.T. group. The reports database serves as the linchpin, Greene says. "It runs when a user launches a report in the portal; the request hits the report database, which calls the query, runs the report and throws the result up onto the portal," he says. Most of those reports use data from live systems, giving the reports as close to real-time data as possible.
For example, 12 custom-built reports pull information such as actual sales, pending sales and sales by product or by salesperson from Shuffle Master's customer relationship management and ERP financial systems, and aggregate the results on a dashboard that sales executives can monitor for up-to-the-minute results.
"We're getting more real-time information out of this," Meyer says. "The accuracy of our revenue forecasting tool is within 1% [of actual quarterly sales] now." Prior to this system, it took Shuffle Master 25 days to get final quarterly numbers; it did not track the accuracy rate for the paper-based system.
Using a portal to share knowledge tends to be more useful at midsize businesses such as Shuffle Master than at larger organizations, says Alan Pelz-Sharpe, principal strategist at Wipro, a product strategy and architecture consultancy based in Bangalore, India: "The scale of a small to midsize company allows it to get great benefits from a centralized content storage access point. [Small to midsize businesses] aren't so large as to make something like that clunky and unwieldy."
Shuffle Master is not alone in its quest to collect, analyze and disseminate up-to-date information. The application integration and portal markets grew by 5.8% to more than $6.7 billion in 2004, according to Gartner.
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