How one CIO cured his info glut woes

Herbalife, a $2.3 billion company that markets nutrition, weight-management and personal-care products to 2 million global distributors, made key changes in its sales strategy over the last year that brought with them a big jump in the amount of data the IT group must manage. The info glut-more than 240 terabytes of data-required a new storage and management strategy.

The first change was the Nutrition Clubs the company started early this year-social gatherings hosted by distributors where would-be customers could sample Herbalife shakes, teas and other products while learning about nutrition. Before a club event, distributors would order extra, single-serve products to give out and sell. “Not only does this raise top-line revenue, but it results in more-frequent, but smaller, purchases,” says CIO Mark Schissel. “Volume grows tenfold.”

At about the same time Herbalife was seeing this increase in transaction volume, it implemented a global Oracle ERP system and expanded the use of data analytics and business intelligence, as well as the use of video for sales and promotions.

Videos, such as company-produced testimonials posted on its Facebook page or product explainers posted on YouTube, help Herbalife agents convince new distributors to sign on, Schissel explains. Even more effective in wooing new business is when agents access these videos via smartphones, he says. “Unstructured data is the biggest value proposition for our company.”

Staying Ahead of the Data Explosion
In all, Herbalife now manages more than triple the volume of data it did two years ago. To cope, Schissel knew the IT group would have to work closely with department managers to understand the relative importance of the types of data being produced and allow those levels of importance to dictate where and how the data should be stored.

Sarbanes-Oxley and other compliance regulations require, for example, that financial transactions be retrievable for years, but don’t mandate they be kept on production servers. On the other hand, videos that the sales force uses may not have to be archived for compliance reasons, but they should be backed up and readily available rather than archived offsite.

Once the data is prioritized, Herbalife uses CommVault’s Simpana tools to schedule backups and assign storage locations based on the degree to which the data has to be accessible. “Data has exploded and you’ve got to keep ahead of it,” Schissel says, “so that you’re not making your users wait but also making the most efficient use of storage.”

Although the IT group must deal with a changing mix of structured and unstructured data, Schissel’s staff realized that no matter what kind of content it is, the lifecycle is the same: create, categorize, store, archive, retrieve. Thinking of the process that way, the IT group can configure tools to back up all the data, but treat different kinds of data differently, depending on how accessible Herbalife needs it to be. For example, Herbalife backed up fulfilled product orders that are several months old, archiving that data to storage servers. Sales videos are also backed up regularly, but they are kept on active servers so they’re more accessible.

Simpana also allows Herbalife to manage storage by exception, meaning that if hiccups occur during backup, a report automatically goes to the IT group so someone can investigate what went wrong.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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