An allergy to ammonia spurred Farouk Shami, a Palestinian-American hairdresser and businessman, to invent the first ammonia-free hair color line, which served as the starting point for a new company, Farouk Systems, Inc. The business, which Shami founded in Houston, Texas in 1986, steadily grew from its initial hair color production to become a global manufacturer of high-end hair care products.
Today, the company’s CHI and BioSilk shampoos, conditioners, hair color, and styling products and tools are sold in salons and retail stores all over the world.
Over the years, the custom legacy applications that Farouk Systems used for its internal operations expanded into a conglomeration of tools and systems. In 2013, Farouk Systems implemented SAP ERP to replace those various disparate applications for manufacturing, procurement, inventory control, and finance — basically every aspect of the business with the exception of human resources — to form one single system.
The finance and reporting operations at Farouk Systems were a particular challenge in the pre-SAP environment. With a data warehouse, multiple homegrown reporting applications, and a midsized ERP system, the company kept adding another system and tool in search of the right product combination. With the SAP ERP implementation, Farouk Systems saw an opportunity to further upgrade its financial and operational reporting processes across multiple SAP modules. At first, the company explored the option of developing its own business intelligence platform. However, the ultimate decision was that it would be more cost effective and time efficient to seek help from a third-party software provider. In the end, Farouk Systems mapped out its list of requirements and partnered with the author of Spreadsheet Server, Global Software, to fulfill those needs.
“We wanted a tool to extract the data straight from SAP ERP into Microsoft Excel for analysis, and we wanted an easy way to design and distribute reports to whomever we wanted in whatever format we wanted,” says Rad Patel, Accounting Manager with Farouk Systems. “We gave Global Software our requirements and ran several tests with Spreadsheet Server and its performance was superior. We used the product to run a report with three years of data, and the system did not crash — so they passed the test.”
Patel explains that further testing of the product was performed to ensure the extracted data was correct and all the requirements were met. “Now with Global Software’s Spreadsheet Server, we can serve nearly all the needs that we have at the moment, well above and beyond any basic P&L balance requests,” he says. “And because the template is so easy to use, there was no real learning curve.”
A Simple Way to Report
Farouk Systems uses Spreadsheet Server to convert its general ledger (GL) data into a form that can be easily analyzed, and uses QueryDesigner within Spreadsheet Server for dashboarding capabilities and data manipulation. “With QueryDesigner’s capabilities, we can design and query what we want with the SAP tables directly, without having to stage that data anywhere else,” explains Patel. “We can define the data with QueryDesigner using Spreadsheet Server’s formula-driven approach depending on the source of the data.”
The beauty of Spreadsheet Server, according to Patel, is that Farouk Systems can bring live data right from SAP ERP — GL information through Spreadsheet Server as well as defined non-GL data through QueryDesigner. The integrity of the data has also improved due to the direct connection with SAP ERP. (For more information about Spreadsheet Server, refer to the sidebar at the end of the article.)
Today, Farouk Systems employees can use Spreadsheet Server to find information in SAP ERP by simply defining the parameter of the search. They no longer need to manually pull data from various systems or design their own queries to recreate reports each month. And they no longer have to wait while the system crashes. “Now, we can do purchase-order charting, summarizations, and break down high-volume data and slice it any way we need to organize it,” Patel says.
I used to run each cost-center report individually from SAP ERP, enter and format the data in a spreadsheet, and then distribute the 43-page book to each manager, which took more than a day to prepare. Now, it takes 10 minutes, and the results are distributed to recipients automatically.
QueryDesigner also allows administrators to go in and tweak the pre-defined queries to make them work faster, and can also easily switch from pulling granular data to pulling summarized data. “I receive many requests from sales and marketing teams who want to compare how we did against the promotional running of new product lines,” says Patel. “Now, I have designer pamphlets that pull the sales information by product lines so they can see how they are doing, and if they realize they are not aggressive enough, they can do some enforcement on it. They now have visibility that was not available before.”
Previously, salespeople only had a high-level picture of monthly sales totals delivered by the accounting reports, but today, the sales team has access to the breakdown of these reports by product and can analyze performance and how certain products are selling — and there is very little lag time. “We have Spreadsheet Server installed on a virtual machine, so we don’t waste time waiting for the reports to complete,” he adds. “I can let it run in the background and it takes 5-10 minutes depending on the criteria.”
One of the biggest benefits is how proficiently reporting is now delivered to the 18 managers of the cost centers. “I used to run each cost-center report individually, enter and format the data in a spreadsheet, and then distribute the 43-page book to each manager, which took more than a day to prepare,” he says. “Now, it takes 10 minutes, and the results are distributed to recipients automatically.”
The success that Farouk Systems is seeing on the financials side of the business has sparked other departments to ask for more reporting, and today, Spreadsheet Server has been applied in several other areas where increased visibility is needed, such as billing and material costs.
“Now we are talking about dashboarding and building visualizations with Spreadsheet Server,” Patel adds. “Global Software filled our immediate and biggest void and put us on a path to realization so we could define our needs in terms of all the different kinds of reporting we can now do.”