Hillman Bolts Together GIS and Business Intelligence Solution

By Joe Francica

The Hillman Group is a "nuts and bolts" kind of company. Literally. It is a $380 million distributor of fasteners, screws, washers and, yes, nuts and bolts. They have 25,000 customers that range from Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, True Value and Sears to the "mom and pop" hardware stores that are the mainstay of small towns and rural centers. But with more than 600 sales representatives scattered throughout the U.S., trying to efficiently align sales territories is a challenge (figures 1 and 2). Sticking pins in wall maps to see the locations of sales representatives with respect to customers simply added up to too many pins. The company needed a better solution.

Figure 1 (Click for larger view)

Figure 2 (Click for larger view)

Hillman was not simply looking for a desktop mapping product. The solution had to be coupled to its existing investment in its business intelligence platform. In addition, the company was incurring significant shipping costs from its distribution centers in order to get products to customers. The company knew that tools were available to better manage these costs by analyzing its location-based information.

Currently, the company is using WebFOCUS from Information Builders to provide a fill-rate report that is comprised of real-time order processing, a daily revenue report and product margin information. Each report summarizes the company-wide status, which may be subdivided by individual warehouses.

Location Intelligence
The team of Pete Hebauf and Kirk Townsley of Hillman found that ESRI's ArcGIS would integrate with the WebFOCUS platform through a Java application programming interface. Hebauf and CIO Jim Honerkamp have since identified approximately six Web-based reporting applications that will significantly benefit from the integration. However, a main concern is the ability to balance sales territories to improve customer service. The process had been unscientific, using best guess logic to assign territories to representatives. With ArcGIS, Hillman will look to do the following:
  • Use straight line distance calculations to facilitate the assignment of sales representatives to customers based on the home address of the representative.
  • Optimize the representative’s daily route and provide driving directions using third-party services from ESRI.
  • Combine the mapping of customer locations with route optimization to identify coverage gaps. This will enable Hillman to proactively address these gaps, possibly adding representatives or realigning territories as necessary (figure 3).
  • Provide a macro-geographical view of the sales and service regions with drill-down capability into real-time customer level detail.
Figure 3 (Click for larger view)

Other WebFOCUS applications that will leverage ArcGIS in the immediate future include:
  • Product Penetration - provide a macro-geographic view of each sales region layered with real-time product performance data by customer.
  • Distribution Optimization – Map the distribution center locations and shipping destinations with carrier rate tables to identify inefficiencies for corrective action and subsequent cost savings.
Speaking about the ability to visualize the distribution of sales representatives to its customers, Hebauf said, "We were never able to see them all before."

Published Saturday, July 8th, 2006

Written by Joe Francica

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