Group Incorporated, based in Bloomington, Indiana, is a worldwide
leader in cardiovascular medical device manufacturing. But to
sum up this company's far-flung activities so simply would be
a major understatement: from its founding in 1963, the privately
held Cook Group, with more than 40 companies and 5000 employees
worldwide, has always taken a very distinctive path.
At its root, the corporation is a designer and manufacturer of
minimally-invasive medical device technology for diagnostic and
therapeutic procedures, distributing their COOKŪ brand devices
to medical professionals around the world. They've been at the
forefront of medical product research and development, developing
breakthrough devices that make less invasive surgical procedures
possible. The result: dramatically speeding patients' recovery
by reducing the complexity and risk of many procedures.
The Cook family, now distributed all over the United States,
Europe, Canada, Australia and Asia, also includes companies
that manufacture specialized industrial parts, so that they
manufacture many of their own components for their products.
Then there are still other firms in transportation, travel,
real estate, retail services with sales and marketing offices
worldwide - and most surprisingly, an award-winning, touring
Broadway show, which evolved from a Cook-sponsored competitive
Four Continents -
Virtually all of these businesses were spun off from services
they initially created to supply their medical equipment manufacturing
(which does not quite apply to the Broadway show -- see page 2,
"The Original Cook").
"At Cook," explains Rick Snapp, Vice President, Systems Administration,
"we tend to get there by doing it ourselves, rather than by buying
it." The founder, Bill Cook, was originally a pharmaceutical salesman
who started manufacturing products customers wanted that his distributors
didn't carry. This can-do attitude has remained a guiding principle,
where Mr. Cook and his people have often decided that they can
provide goods and business functions better and more efficiently
than existing firms.
And all of the information systems of their main businesses are
run on jBASE -- under Linux -- beginning five years ago. "jBASE
handles just about all the daily business functions for our core
companies," says Snapp. "Order entry, reporting, invoicing, you
name it. That includes all of our inventory of both raw materials
and finished goods, customer service functions, and traceability,
which we have to do because we're in a regulated industry."
Trail Blazers In
Both Medical Industry and IT
The innovative attitude that has always characterized the Cook
companies also extends to their approach to information management,
where they pioneered by switching to the Linux operating system
at a time when few considered it ready for prime-time business
use. Add their choice four years ago to run 300 users on Intel
hardware ("from Dell"?), and you have a company that likes to
prove wrong those who say it couldn't be done. "But it's proven
to be a very good and very economical decision," notes Snapp,
a 19-year veteran with the company. "Heck, we're running the whole
company on a $59.00 operating system. It seems to some people
like something ought to be wrong with that; but I think there's
something right about it," he smiles.
Similarly, the Cook companies have been built on a MultiValue
database since the 70's. "That was Bill's call," Snapp says. "Besides
owning the company, his other job is that he is actually the person
in charge of IT." Bill Cook was deeply involved in the original
development of their system, wrote most of the applications, and
remains vitally involved in IT to this day.
Mr. Cook sees information management as a central priority for
the business. "It's his belief that if you can control the information
in a company, you can control the company," Snapp explains. After
almost 40 years, Bill Cook is still the owner of the company,
and remains very much (large and) in charge.
Five years ago, Cook approached their earlier database system
vendor with a wish list of upgraded capabilities they needed,
but found the vendor unresponsive. So the company approached Ashwood
Computer Company, Inc., a Value Added Reseller (VAR) located in
Cincinnati, Ohio, who introduced them to jBASE. "They needed to
modernize their system without throwing out all of the custom
programming they had done over the years, " says Heather
of Ashwood, "and jBASE was just miles ahead of any other Reality-compatible
"We're very happy with jBASE --
the basis for what we do as a business."
Cook moved to jBASE first on Unix before deciding they needed
to migrate their OS to Linux. Rick Snapp talks about their double
conversion process, of both database system and OS. "We started
small, because I'd bought a version of Unix that would not support
more than one processor, and the vendor's only option was for
me to buy it all over again -- they wouldn't just upgrade the
licenses I'd just purchased," he says. "So that kind of ticked
me off, and I figured there's got to be another way." Snapp knew
that Linux now shipped with native SMP (Symmetrical Multiprocessing)
support, and decided to take the plunge.
"With jBASE, we began with our warehouse and raw material system
here in Bloomington at Cook, Inc., then we distributed it around
the small European sales subsidiaries," he relates. Slowly but
surely they added business functions and companies onto the system
when they moved to multiprocessing Linux. Today, the jBASE system
at Cook Inc., the largest Cook company, serves 350 users, running
on eight 750 MHz processors, with a roughly equal number in the
Cook companies around the world.
Though all of their companies operate independently, with each
responsible for its own physical resources, personnel, and financial
performance, all members of the Cook Group share technology and
many product distribution channels. "The applications used throughout
all the core businesses are all very similar, with some quirks
depending upon where in the world you are," Snapp explains.
"One of our goals is to keep things as consistent as possible,
because that enables someone from one company to help out in another
company without a very steep learning curve," he says. At the
headquarters in Bloomington, they collect data monthly, where,
"Our focus on consistency also allows us to aggregate reporting
a lot easier, since everybody is using the same definitions of
which buckets various items have to go into," Snapp says.
Cook is also presently using ODBC (Open Database Connectivity
protocol) to link jBASE with a sophisticated Windows-based reporting
tool, answering a call for additional reporting to be extended
through the companies. "We're moving into a different world, now,
that requires us to give more information to some people, and
also provide them with some tools that they can actually utilize,"
says Snapp. IT has to respond to the expectations of today's users
for graphical interfaces and easily understood software.
Snapp appreciates the power and reliability of jBASE as Cook
works at managing its manufacturing on a global scale. "We have
a big initiative here to streamline a number of our processes
and production techniques," Snapp explains. "Because we are one
company, there really shouldn't be any reason that we can't manufacture
a product wherever we can do so most efficiently. For example,
it seems silly for us to manufacture a product here that is used
pretty much exclusively in Europe, or vice versa. So we're looking
at consolidating the manufacturing of some of these products in
the most effective locations."
They are also trying to consolidate their product line as much
as possible. Cook Incorporated alone has over 200,000 catalog
numbers, "which are mostly a lot of different sizes and lengths
and shapes of things," Snapp explains. "But we have so many products
and different varieties that people usually need some coaching
from customer service."
"jBASE causes me to not even question taking on projects like
this, because it's worked so well for us," Snapp states. "And
our business has always been ideally suited to a MultiValue database.
"We're very happy with jBASE -- it is the basis for what we do."
Cook IT has a range of development and enhancements in mind as
they move forward. "For one, we're always working to enhance our
customer service capabilities, to ensure our deliveries are timely
and that we contract the things well," Snapp says. Responding
to the call for further, more detailed reporting is also a continuing
They are actively investigating jBASE Web Builder for making
ordering available to their customers through the Web, once the
streamlining of their catalog is complete, probably to begin with
the simpler function of reordering. And while Cook has long been
translating material into multiple languages, they are aware of
their need to move to multibyte character sets, which jBASE is
always ready to handle, for dealing with Asian markets.
One of their companies, Sabin Corp., which manufactures custom
plastic components for Cook medical products, is interested in
jBASE's Transaction Journaling option, which allows complete database
recovery from catastrophic events. Rick Snapp isn't in as big
a hurry, because, he says, "We went 275 days without a minute
of downtime not long ago, so I haven't been greatly concerned
about being down or losing data."
As their business continues to grow, the Cook Group will continue
to provide innovative, physician-conceived, custom-crafted medical
devices to health care providers -- and jBASE will continue to
do the heavy lifting. "I think jBASE ought to just keep going
they way they are," Rick Snapp says, "because they're doing fine,
in my opinion."