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General Mills repairs product data for compliance

General Mills recently completed a lengthy project streamlining data from various SAP systems to identify products for the global product code registry.

BOSTON -- When General Mills launched Berry Burst Cheerios, the company's various SAP systems used different identifiers...

for the product: Big G Cheerios, Gen Mills and G Mil Berry Burst Cheerios, to name a few.

You can have duplication efforts especially when other information like third-party data is brought in to augment what you have.
Sheryl Kingstone,
CRM program managerYankee Group

The system worked within Minneapolis-based General Mills' various divisions, but when large supermarket chains began pressing the company to comply with global data synchronization standards, the system created some confusion. The food maker is required to report unique identifiers for each product to the Global Data Synchronization Network, a registry used by retailers and manufacturers to track and identify specific products as they move through the supply chain.

In came Deb Hertler of General Mills and her 38 team members overseeing the company's SAP master data, mySAP Business Suite and warehouse management systems.

Hertler's team placed 1,500 company products into the global registry by creating a data model to support the identification requirements, force data consistency among the company's various divisions and improve data quality.

"Before, our systems supported us in-house," said Hertler, who explained the project to attendees of SAP's TechEd '05 conference. "Now our product data is shared with customers and put out on our intranet, so it was key to put it in a standard structure that could be easily used."

Data quality and consistency is imperative as companies begin sharing information externally, Hertler said. Improving the functionality of systems to boost data accuracy and quality is worth the effort, she said.

General Mills isn't the only firm dealing with data issues. Data quality is a rising concern across many growing enterprises, said Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager with Boston-based Yankee Group. When companies start analytics projects, such as building a business warehouse, data quality suddenly becomes a top priority, Kingstone said.

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"There are many different systems and oftentimes the same data can be represented differently. You can have duplication efforts especially when other information like third-party data is brought in to augment what you have," Kingstone said. "That's why it's very important to map it appropriately."

To solve their data quality issues, Hertler and her team custom designed new material master tables by assigning product attributes and product relationships. Adding to the complexity was the addition of dozens of new product lines the company acquired through a merger with Pillsbury in 2001.

The new material master had five new custom tables, which contained 30 new fields. New functionality was built in to enable end users to create reports, search by relationship and status of a product.

"We created a lot of road shows that we took within the company, showing what can and cannot be done on SAP," Hertler said. "Education made all the difference in the world."

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