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    CSNews Exclusive: Sheetz Enhances Data Warehousing Platform

    Company upgrades data warehouse to accommodate more space, while concentrating on business intelligence to analyze what is being collected.

    By W.B. King

    Streamlining c-store operations from back office to point-of-sale (POS) requires business intelligence tools, such as data warehousing and analytics. This is a considerable issue for c-store chains operating in disparate regions, such as Sheetz Inc., an Altoona, Pa.-based c-store chain with 11,000 employees and 350 locations throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina.

    In an effort to restructure data management capabilities, Jim Wenner, chief information officer for Sheetz, explained the company continually tweaks its platform.

    "We started with our own hardware about three years ago with one terabyte of data," Wenner told CSNews Online. To put that in context, one terabyte of data is the equivalent of 106 dual-layer DVDs. As Sheetz business operations expanded, so did the amount of aggregated information that needed to be stored and easily accessed. This led to an investigation into platforms that could handle related growth and accessibility issues."

    "Initially, we reviewed vendors for approximately six months before making the selection," noted Wenner. A few years ago this resulted in partnering with the Teradata Corp., which focuses on data warehousing and enterprise analytics. "We moved to the Teradata Data Mart Appliance," said Wenner who added this platform was a step up, handling three terabytes of information.

    This month, Sheetz will upgrade once again to the Teradata Data Warehouse Appliance. "We are moving now to six terabyte with the newer device," said Wenner. "We will use the appliance for testing and development."

    The new data appliance features core Intel processors, a SUSE Linux operating system and enterprise class storage. While the appliance can be operational within hours of being installed, there remains a learning curve, which requires a concerted effort from both companies although Sheetz handles in-house operations.

    "Teradata help us to define our governance strategy. We have a group of data stewards, or heavy data users at the departmental level, who work on extracting, transforming and loading data and data availability/definition process," said Wenner. "We have another group that acts as a steering committee to prioritize projects and discuss uses and evolution of the system."

    A noted feature of the appliance is a multi-touch marketing intelligence tool known as the Teradata Relationship Manager (TRM), explained Wenner. "TRM provides the ability to segment types of customers based on purchase patterns," he said. "This allows you to target your marketing message."

    While investment in platforms such as Teradata will vary depending on the size and needs of a c-store operation, determining the return-on-investment is calculable. "We believe the economics and performance of the new platform to be a wise investment in our own business future, as well as in the advanced technology we need to support our vision," said Wenner.

    In conjunction with Teradata, Sheetz uses Pentaho’s open source business intelligence suite that provides comprehensive reporting, online analytical processing, dashboards, data integration and data mining. "ROI was really driven by going to a common database [Teradata], and common reporting tool [Pentaho] and moving from departmental [data marts] reporting to enterprise [data warehouse] reporting," said Wenner.

    As Sheetz undergoes its latest rollout, Wenner said the company will continue to focus on enhancing operations. "The biggest benefit is getting the data stewards on the same page, as far as data is concerned, and identify where we can eliminate duplication in efforts for reports and analysis currently done at the departmental level."

    By W.B. King
    • About W.B. King

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