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Talkin' turkey with dirty data

When Jennie-O Foods merged with The Turkey Store, it had more than just processed turkey to integrate. The combined company created a Corporate Information Factory to centralize its data.

Perhaps there is no greater test of a company's data integration strategy than a merger. And that holds true whether the company specializes in technology, banking -- or turkey.

For Willmar, Minn.-based Jennie-O Foods Inc., a February 2001 merger with The Turkey Store Co. was more demanding than even the company's busiest Thanksgiving season.

Executives at the newly merged company, called the Jennie-O Turkey Store Inc., hired a new data integration analyst for the tough task of creating a centralized data repository. Peggy J. Hehr created a Corporate Information Factory (CIF) to allow for reports and other data generated by different databases and legacy applications.

It was not an easy task.

"There were two payrolls, two general ledgers, two inventories," Hehr said. "They merged in name only."

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The CIF project began with a program made up of three parts: the corporate information, the hardware and software tools, and the Phoenix group. The Phoenix group was a team of IT pros who helped the user community determine where data needed to be cleansed or business processes changed.

"That was our biggest hurdle, making sure we've got the right data," Hehr said. "We put in procedures that when we load, we balance the numbers and it kicks out anything that isn't clean and we have it fixed immediately."

The CIF project began with gathering the corporate information. Hehr and her team interviewed 38 senior executives nationwide to identify the key performance indicators. That resulted in a six-point plan.

Phase one was the selection of two extract transform and load (ETL) vendors and a one-week, proof-of-concept project. The proof of concept is vital for organizations undertaking a project because it helps to ensure companies are getting the right tools, Hehr said. The Jennie-O Turkey Store purchased the Enterprise Integration Suite from the Ascential Software Corp. in Westboro, Mass.

Phase one of the CIF went live in September and provided sales, customer, product, broker and planning data. Phase two will encompass the financials system.

Meanwhile, the company is trying to decide how to proceed with products from Lawson Software at one company, a legacy system at another and Oracle financials at Hormel Foods, the parent company. Subsequent phases will focus on operations, live production, supply chain and, finally, human resources and IT.

Phase one was about 23 GB of information, and when all phases are complete, Hehr estimated it will be about 70 GB in size.

"It's not mammoth, but I think it will really benefit the whole company to create a central repository for ease of reporting," Hehr said. "These people were trying to drop things from both companies into Excel spreadsheets and analyze it. This will at least have data in one location."

The merged company has 7,000 employees with six processing plants in Minnesota and Wisconsin, 140 growing and breeder farms, eight feed mills and four hatcheries. It is running SQL servers, as well as two iSeries systems.

Looking back, Hehr said the one thing she might have done differently was to give users more time for questions and answers. Users wound up requesting more reports than planners had predicted.

On top of careful planning, information gathering and selecting the right tool, Hehr recommended that any company undertaking a similar project put together a strong team.

"You really need to have qualified people to make it go," Hehr said. "In order to make a go you need dedicated people focused on the project. We had three permanent people and two consultants, one who I worked with on a prior project."

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