BlueLinx Implements STEP to Improve Ease of Doing Business and to Position Itself for Growth
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BlueLinx Implements STEP to Improve Ease of Doing Business and to Position Itself for Growth

Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, BlueLinx Corporation (NYSE: BXC) is a leading distributor of building products in North America. Employing approximately 2,000 people, the company offers more than 10,000 products and 70,000 SKUs from more than 750 suppliers to service approximately 11,500 customers nationwide, including dealers, industrial manufacturers, manufactured housing producers and home improvement retailers.

BlueLinx was originally the distribution arm of Georgia-Pacific, but in 2004, it was spun off and purchased by Cerberus Capital Management and a team of senior leaders from the former division. Today, BlueLinx operates its distribution business from sales centers in Atlanta and Denver and its network of more than 70 warehouses.

Although BlueLinx was no longer part of Georgia- Pacific, it was able to bring over most of the legacy systems it had been using for years. The legacy code these systems were built on provided BlueLinx with a foundation upon which to grow as a new independent company. At the same time, some of these systems had not been updated for more than a decade, and because regional product databases had been merged over the years, BlueLinx found itself with a significant amount of duplicate or obsolete product data.

BlueLinx’s legacy systems were also challenged by the breadth and complexity of the company’s product lines. In many cases, the same product has to be described or bundled differently from one location or region to the next. Also, one region may have to track specific compliance data—such as country of origin or other product attributes—on a product or product category. And some locations quote and sell the same product using different units of measure.

Recognizing that clean, quality data would be an essential element of its continued success, BlueLinx set out to find a master data management (MDM) platform that would help make it easier for customers and vendors to do business with the company and would position it for continued growth.

To evaluate potential solutions, BlueLinx created a detailed functional matrix listing dozens of essential capabilities, each one weighted based on its level of importance. After evaluating a number of vendors and creating a short list of three finalists, BlueLinx chose STEP, Stibo System’s product master data management platform, along with Stibo’s print publishing tool.

According to Meg Hulme, Director of IT at BlueLinx, STEP proved to be a robust yet flexible platform with strong publishing functionality. “Because of the complexity of our business and our varied product lines, we needed a platform that would allow for multiple hierarchies and the flexibility to use different hierarchy levels depending on the specific product, its category and where it was sold,” she said. “STEP scored very well in this area.”

Online catalogs represent a key strategic imperative for BlueLinx. Therefore, another key factor in the company’s decision was the system’s ability to streamline digital catalog production and customize marketing collateral for individual customers, which STEP and its publishing tool excelled at.

Finally, the ability to handle mass data uploads was paramount. Because of the sheer size of BlueLinx’s product database, the company needed a platform that would automate data entry and product updates—not just initially but also as the company added, updated or discontinued product lines. STEP’s workflow tool proved that it could handle these tasks better than most of the competing solutions BlueLinx evaluated.

Focused Internal Effort to Clean Up Product Data The decision to implement an MDM platform encouraged BlueLinx to conduct a focused internal effort to review and clean up existing product information in preparation for input into STEP.

Through its efforts, BlueLinx successfully reduced excess inventory, improved the quality and speed of product information searches, improved sales force productivity, and enhanced customer service. Additionally, improved data quality has helped the company derive greater value from its recently implemented JDA forecasting tool.

Improved Data Governance
STEP’s built-in workflow tool has been instrumental in allowing BlueLinx to establish improved data governance through its ability to limit the number of individuals requiring permission to modify product information and attributes. The result has been cleaner and more accurate data; faster and more accurate search results; and better, more usable information.

“Tighter controls mean that new products may take a little longer to be uploaded to the system,” explained Hulme. “However, we can now trust what’s there, and we have a broader and richer set of information.” That’s because BlueLinx’s new governance process, supported by STEP’s workflow tool, involves collecting and evaluating other important product attributes—such as weight, height and close to 30 other key pieces of information, depending on the product. This information feeds into many of the company’s other business systems, helping employees at all levels make better decisions and enabling regulatory compliance.

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