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Situation: A mid-sized distributor of industrial refractories located near Pittsburgh, PA had grown rapidly but relied on an old Excel spreadsheet design to track their orders and inventory. They used a variety of filters and sort criteria to extract information from the large spreadsheet about specific customers or specific retractory types. The spreadsheet created a bottleneck whenever several of the staff needed access to current order status or inventory information. In late 2004, the company decided to replace their large spreadsheet with a more structured database design but had limited funds available for the upgrade.

Action: Dupree & Associates studied their spreadsheet layout and present business procedures then proposed to replace the spreadsheet with a database-driven web site. This new private web site would provide forms for inputting data at each stage of the order - delivery process. It would also generate customized reports showing the status of each order and the quantity / location data of each of the 100's of refractory types they stocked. The proposal was accepted and the new system was delivered a few months later.

Additional routines were developed to show the amount of inventory at each of 50 warehouse and customer locations in both a summary and a detail format. Utility routines also allowed them to view and edit all of the fields for each of the 1000's of pallets of brick in stock. The web site is password protected and there are several classes of users with different levels of access privileges. Both a usage and a change log are provided to track all system logins and database changes. The system was developed on a commercial web hosting site, but it uses industry-standard PHP web page scripts and a standard SQL database interface so it can be hosted in-house later, if desired.

Result: The new system is being run in parallel with the old spreadsheet for a few months to verify that it functions exactly as desired. Staff can access the web site either from their desks or from off-site locations, making it easier to respond to customer inquiries even when the office is closed or when they are traveling to customer sites. Later, the web site might be opened up to field sales agents who need current order and inventory status information but only for their specific customers.

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