Quaker Chemical

A single-instance ERP app provides a new method of distributing data to remote users.

April 22, 2005

9 Min Read
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Sales reps no longer must remotely log into an ERP application and send a query to view open orders. The information is pushed directly to their laptop computers in spreadsheet format on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The company also is considering a purchase of BlackBerry PDAs (see "The Hard Sell,") so these mobile users can receive data wirelessly, too.

The push approach is a logical next step for Quaker Chemical, which four years ago implemented a single-instance ERP system to eliminate the multiple ERP applications at each of its regional sites. The company also integrated its existing clustered Windows 2000 SAS 9 data-warehouse system with the PeopleSoft ERP application. Today, the ERP app, which runs on IBM i-Series servers, acts primarily as a transaction engine, and the data warehouse handles business intelligence.

The data-warehouse engine uses ODBC, a common interface between the application and the database engine, to extract data from the ERP system. The data warehouse parses that data into smaller data marts, such as salary and billing, according to Tyler. This approach streamlines the different ERP applications so that users don't have to be trained to glean data from ERP apps they don't use regularly.To make the new ERP environment work, Quaker Chemical had to beef up its WAN. The Conshohocken, Pa.-based company uses AT&T's EVPN (Enhanced VPN), an MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) IP service with E1, T1, 513-Kbps and 256-Kbps connections to link 13 regional Quaker Chemical sites around the world. AT&T owns and manages the high-end routers and other network equipment in the global WAN, including Quaker Chemical's data center in the Netherlands.

To ensure the ERP application gets enough bandwidth and doesn't muscle out other apps, Quaker also deployed Peribit SR (Sequence Reducer) WAN accelerator appliances at each of its sites, which pumped up the bandwidth by 300 percent, Tyler says. The Peribit boxes improve WAN efficiency by reducing unnecessary traffic such as redundant packets. Tyler says he's looking forward to improvements in the SR-20 and SR-50s, including a method of opening and closing static transactions such as HTTP less frequently, which will reduce latency. "A lot of times, you don't need it [the SR] to close an HTTP transaction if you're going to come right back to it, and Peribit is building technology into its devices that helps figure that out," Tyler says. Also on his wish list for the SRs: built-in virus and spam protection.

Gauging Quality

Quaker Chemical has plenty of bandwidth so far, so it hasn't tapped the QoS (quality of service) features in the Peribit boxes for prioritizing the ERP application traffic. But Tyler says Quaker Chemical is experimenting with QoS by adding high-bandwidth apps such as Web conferencing to the WAN. "ERP transactions get top priority," Tyler says. The company also has bought Peribit's network-monitoring tool, which provides detailed views of traffic patterns to help tune QoS parameters, but hasn't yet deployed it.

QoS alone won't keep WAN traffic humming along peacefully. "QoS is not the end-all," Tyler says. "If you don't have enough bandwidth, users who suffer from a [lower] service level won't be happy if you tell them that's just how you prioritize the traffic." QoS may play a critical role if Quaker Chemical decides to add voice to its WAN--it's currently studying the possibility--to ensure that ERP and latency-sensitive voice traffic don't squeeze each other out.

Irving H. Tyler 46, is vice president and CIO of the $400 million Quaker Chemical Corp., based in Conshohocken, Pa. In his 10 years with the company, Tyler has served as director of finance for U.S. operations and as controller and director of IS for European operations. He's been in IT since he hacked his first copy of Lotus 1-2-3 and bought his first "portable" computer in the 1980s (he still has both).

Why they call him Bubba: "My father wanted to name me after my grandfather, Irving Henry Tyler. But in Texas, that's a Yankee name, and that's a problem. 'Bubba' is a common nickname meaning 'brother' in Texas, so I've been called Bubba ever since."

Biggest annoyance with data warehousing: "Source-data quality: If the systems that generate source data aren't set correctly or if users are producing errors, the data warehouse inherits the problem and becomes less effective."

Why single-instance ERP sometimes gets a bad rap: "Everyone thinks what they do is unique. But in reality, 80 percent of what is done in an enterprise is the same, and the remaining 20 percent is not truly unique, just different. Less than 5 percent of the work requires a truly different approach and is usually driven by local laws or regulations."How life imitates IT: "I'm often the 'break and fix' guy at home with my children because, like the users at work, they need the computer to do their job but don't care how it does it: 'Dad, the printer isn't working!' "

Best geek joke: "Bill Gates dies and goes up to St. Peter, who asks him if he wants to go to heaven or hell, or if he qualifies for either. Bill asks to take a look at each before he chooses, so St. Peter takes him to hell, where he sees beautiful people on a beach sipping cocktails, dancing, laughing and playing happily. Then he goes to heaven and sees people floating on clouds and singing serenely. Gates says to St. Peter, 'Well, heaven looks nice, but hell looks like a lot more fun. I want to go to hell.' A few weeks later, St. Peter visits Gates in hell, where he's chained to a big rock and swinging a pick, digging, sweating, bleeding and thirsty. Gates says to St. Peter, 'It's terrible here, nothing works like I thought, I'm miserable and this is not what you showed me.' St. Peter replies, 'I'm sorry, Bill, but what you saw was just the demo.' "

After hours: "I am a real homebody--I like staying home with my wife and children, reading, watching certain television shows and movies, and working on my computer. I also enjoy watching my children play competitive volleyball and basketball--I like to go and yell at the referees most of all."

Being a longtime CIO of a small IT department has its advantages when you pitch a project to upper management. Just ask Quaker Chemical vice president and CIO Irving H. "Bubba" Tyler, who had rolled up his sleeves years ago in the original SAS data-warehouse project, when the company first built the business-intelligence repository for its U.S. operations.

When it came time to pitch the single-instance ERP/ data warehouse and WAN optimization project four years ago, Tyler had an intimate understanding of not only the company's overall business strategy to unify its global processes and IT systems, but also what it really takes to get there. The chemical manufacturer's executives signed off after Tyler showed them how it fit the company's big-picture strategy.The key to supporting the business units was a set of global ERP and business-intelligence tools--and data, Tyler says. So the plan to integrate the PeopleSoft ERP systems into the SAS data warehouse won over Quaker Chemical execs.

Tyler's most recent challenge has been to keep the momentum going behind the single-instance ERP and data-warehouse project in the face of some real-world business and market pressures--namely, skyrocketing oil prices and acquisitions by Quaker Chemical that temporarily strained the company's finances, resources and planning.

The good news is that finishing the build-out in the United States, Europe, Brazil and China doesn't require the same level of funding as the original project did. Quaker Chemical will be able to leverage the existing WAN and system infrastructure as well as the now-established ERP business processes.

"The issue isn't funding--we need less and less capital as we continue to scale what we have in place," Tyler says. "The issue is the time availability of users and local managers, whom we have made part of this project team."

Sometimes, convincing company execs how an IT project can help the company meet its business goals means tapping into the grass roots of the organization."If I need some added energy [for a project], I find local users and managers who need the capabilities and ask them to help me campaign," Tyler says.

Tyler's next big pitch: the purchase of BlackBerry PDAs for pushing data-mart information to the company's mobile users. But change is never easy, and Tyler anticipates another round of rallying department heads and users to help push the "push" project if it gets approved.

"All politics is local," Tyler says, "and you have to find ways to help local people get through the elements of change."

If there's one thing Irving Tyler regrets about Quaker Chemical Corp.'s ERP and data-warehouse project, it's the company's heavy dependence on outside consultants. "We brought them in and let them run the show at first," says Tyler, vice president and CIO of Quaker Chemical. "We spent a lot of time and money and became too reliant on them."

Quaker Chemical hired IBM Global Services to help kick off the project, because its in-house staff had little expertise in configuring a global data warehouse and single-source ERP environment at the time. It didn't take long for the small team of consultants to become part of the family. In the end, that made it tough for Quaker Chemical's IT group to wean itself off the consultants. "They became too knowledgeable and good at it--all on our dime," Tyler says. Tyler won't say how much the company spent on consulting, but the cost was big--about 40 percent of the overall multimillion-dollar project. Another 10 percent was software, and the rest was internal manpower and operational costs.Ideally, consultants should train your internal IT group and then leave, Tyler says. "I would rather hire consultants to teach my people to do the project--we would have been better off if we had," he says. The consultants then serve more as backup, and the internal staff gets the necessary know-how. "Do as much yourself as you can," Tyler advises.

Tyler also recommends taking plenty of time to understand and configure the single-instance ERP application to support your organization's output. A global invoice, for instance, doesn't fit every billing scenario, as Quaker Chemical found during its implementation. Different countries have different legal requirements for what goes into an invoice. Tyler says the company didn't spend enough time on the front end to understand the specific elements users in different countries needed for their invoices, so the bills generated by the system weren't sufficient for all customers and vendors. The company had to go back to the drawing board and redesign the invoice formats.

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