Italy attracts tens of millions of tourists a year, but almost none of them visit the city of Latina. About 100km south of Rome, it's not exactly a hotbed of history, art and culture. In fact, until 50 years ago, Latina wasn't much more than a swamp.

But today, thanks to drainage and government tax incentives, Latina is recognized as hotbed of advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing. And the jewel in the city's crown is the Pfizer plant where Luca Minchella works as a business analyst in manufacturing information management systems.

Minchella, 36 and a 10-year Pfizer veteran, beams with pride as he talks about the factory. "We produce more than 125-million units [boxes] of product per year," he says. "This is one of Pfizer's most advanced facilities. It's a model for the rest of the company."

As a CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) facility, advanced technology is used throughout the plant to increase efficiency. As an integral part of the technological mix, Pfizer uses Databeacon reporting and analysis software to track the relationship between plant production runs and budgets. As well, the Databeacon application, which is totally Web-based and runs in any standard browser with no training, manual or installation required, helps managers comply with Pfizer's famously rigid quality assurance standards.

Pfizer Italy has been using Databeacon for nearly two years, and from day one, according to Minchella, it's been saving the firm both time and money. Like most industrial plants, the Pfizer facility gathers a huge amount of data. But in the days before Databeacon, users who needed a specific chunk of that data depended on the IT department to extract it and deliver it in a usable form. Minchella says, on average, it would take an IT specialist between one and two days to pull the data from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet then create an entirely new sheet for the end user. With an IT department of just 10 people responsible for a 250-station network, the strain on resources was enormous.

"We knew we had to do something," Minchella says. "We tried to develop an application ourselves using Java, but we had no success at all with that. Then we looked at an Oracle product, but it was far too complicated for our end-users. It was too hard to transform data into a cube and offered a limited number of cells. Also, it didn't work with a browser."

That's when the Pfizer team had the opportunity to see a Databeacon demo. It was impressive but, according to Minchella, the moment of truth came when the plant's IT manager Bruno Piva took an evaluation copy home with him. With no previous database skills and no formal Databeacon instruction, Piva was able to build his own cube, at home, on his personal computer. "It's so simple," he said the next day. "I did it. And if I did it, anyone can do it."

"Since then, we've been using it to save both time and money," Minchella says. "Before Databeacon, people would come to us and we'd have to take someone off a priority project so they could build an Excel spreadsheet. Now, I just direct the person making the request to a website."

He says staff at the plant are hugely enthusiastic about using Databeacon. Not only do they get their data in a matter of minutes rather than days, but they can also manipulate the information themselves without IT assistance. As a result, staff in the plant are actually making greater use of available data than ever before.

"They are very happy," Minchella says. "And I'm happy, too. For me, Databeacon has been a perfect solution. Now when people come to ask us for something, I don't have to get my staff to do the work. I just say click here."

With end-users using Databeacon to extract and manipulate the information they need, and the plant's IT staff freed up to concentrate on other key tasks, Luca Minchella is now looking beyond the factory walls. Once a month, he's required to submit a data report to Pfizer's head office. The information required is all in the plant's database, but extracting and preparing it takes him at least two days and often three. Minchella's plan is to save those two or three days by getting head office hooked on Databeacon, too.

"One day, I hope to do that," he says. "I'd like to be able to say to head
office just click here."

Chad Doucette gave permission to use this case study at DSSResources.COM on Monday, May 14, 2001. For more information check Posted May 15, 2001. Databeacon 5.1 costs $90,000 for a dual-processor external Web server license and it began shipping in May 2001. Also, check Richard Brown, "Real B2B - Panacea for Pfizer", Line 56, Friday, April 27,2001