BOP organization upgrades management system

BOP organization upgrades management system

Justice-run FPI modernizes legacy application to improve customer service, financial management

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

Federal Prison Industries plans to complete its $10 million technology modernization by May, installing R/3 System business software from SAP AG of Walldorf, Germany.

FPI will use TSI International Software Ltd.'s Mercator enterprise application integration tool to map the way, FPI officials said.

Modernization of the legacy Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application system from Symix Systems Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, to SAP R/3 stemmed from a need to better handle financial management and improve customer service, said Tim Clements, FPI development manager.

Making time

FPI is a government-owned corporation within the Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons. It manufactures textiles, furniture, vehicle parts and other material used by the federal government under the trade name Unicor.

FPI has heavily modified the Symix app since installation began in 1990 to meet its manufacturing and financial needs, said Tom Phalen, FPI information systems' chief and ERP project manager.

FPI decided to use the off-the-shelf SAP R/3 to add functions, but in-house programmers created the code to configure the organization's operating systems, Phalen said.

The system can provide sales and materials, production planning, warehouse management and financial accounting services. SAP, which has regional offices in Newtown Square, Pa., will funnel all FPI factory information from all sites with the R/3 application; the Symix application created a distributed information system.

'The same software ran at all the sites,' Phalen said. 'We collected it and balled it into one report. The data was current as of the last Friday ' so you were in good shape on Saturday.'

'There was latency in information,' Clements said. 'Now, everybody will be able to look at the same information all the time' through SAP R/3.

Along with the software, FPI also needed to replace its hardware.

FPI since 1989 had used a RISC server from Data General Corp. of Westborough, Mass. But Data General ceased manufacturing the hardware two to three years ago, Phalen said.

Damaged or worn out parts of the Data General system also were difficult to replace, Clements said.

SAP R/3 uses two four-way Compaq ProLiant 7000 servers with 500-MHz Pentium III Xeon processors, and 3G of RAM and 3000G of RAID Level 5 storage each. The servers run Microsoft Windows NT and host Microsoft SQL Server 7 databases, according to FPI.

Another aspect of the upgrade, Phalen said, was FPI's need to better integrate the electronic merchandise ordering catalog, which has been up for about three years, into its financial system. An order would move from the Internet to the FPI customer service office in Lexington, Ky., then to the appropriate manufacturing site.

SAP R/3 will move orders from the Internet directly to the factory manufacturing the item and notify customers of the status of their orders via e-mail, Phalen said.

FPI decided to use Mercator software from TSI of Wilton, Conn., to integrate and convert data from the Symix system soon after the selection of SAP R/3.

'Many times integration and conversion are left till the last minute and then you hear a collective 'Oops,' ' Phalen said. 'Having said 'oops' enough times myself, conversion of the data became a major part of the plans.'

Cover your assets

Implementing a tool with mapping capabilities, such as Mercator, will reduce the chances of inaccurate information populating the system, Phalen said. Mercator is enabling FPI to take data from the legacy system and create a field that is directly loadable into SAP R/3, Clements said.

Mercator can look at multiple input cards and validate them, allowing complex many-to-many integration via a single passthrough of data, rather than a many-to-many with multiple passes, Clements said. FPI reduced its integration time by 40 percent using Mercator, he added.

The TSI 'approach is based on the intelligent understanding of the data that are to be integrated, not just understanding that a customer master file is numbers, but understanding the meaning of one system to another system,' said John Hanger, TSI vice president of product management.''

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