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-- A customer success story written in 2002 for jBase Software, Framingham, Mass. (currently awaiting approval from the legal dept. of Cook; this article was written just before Cook agreed to be acquired by a much larger company) --

"Cook Group Runs Globe-Spanning Array of Businesses on jBASE and Linux"

    Cook 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 marching band.

    40 Companies,
    5000 Employees,
    Four Continents -

    All Running
    On jBASE

    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 system."

    "We're very happy with jBASE --

    it's 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.

    Streamlining Business Processes

    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."

    Looking Ahead

    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 effort.

    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."

    PAGE 2 --

    The Original Cook

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