A. Schulman is a leading international supplier of high-performance plastic compounds and resins used as raw materials for industrial and automotive equipment components; construction and home improvement products; film and packaging; medical, telecommunications, and garden supplies; toys, and more.
Headquartered in Akron, Ohio, a single IBM i server runs their U.S. operations. They also have a second box in Europe and a server-based system in Mexico.
Job Scheduling Essentials
Tim Winnicki is the IT applications manager at A. Schulman, overseeing Oracle Hyperion Financial Management software for financial reporting, as well as Infor System21 for enterprise resource planning, SEQUEL ViewPoint® for data access, and Robot systems management solutions on IBM i.
They started with the powerful combination of Robot SCHEDULE job scheduling and batch management software and Robot REPLAY interactive job management software. As Tim explains, “We wanted to use variables to schedule events that require a date to be input to run automatically. We built Replay objects for those jobs and replaced the date with a variable to run them unattended. Now, we have more than 150 Replay objects and more than 200 jobs scheduled in Robot SCHEDULE.”
Tim’s team also relies on Robot SCHEDULE for dependency processing. “For our nightly invoicing process, we have a group job that’s set up to process invoices, print them, and post them to our general ledger. If one process stops, the rest of the group jobs are placed on hold until we can look at it. That way, we avoid posting invoices that aren’t fully processed. We do the same thing with our Master Production Scheduling (MPS) process each morning. If one job fails, the rest stop so that nothing gets out of sync. Before Robot, we had operators manually running these tasks daily. Now, they do more value-added tasks, like writing queries.”
Tips for Saving Time
Robot also saves the team time during job schedule maintenance and troubleshooting. Tim says, “If there’s a problem, you know exactly where to look in the job log and find out what went wrong. With a standard scheduler, when you have a problem you search all over to find out what’s wrong. Robot SCHEDULE indicates whether the job terminated and if you have to rerun it. That helps us troubleshoot quickly.”
Tim’s team also likes how easy it is to set up month-end jobs. Robot SCHEDULE allows them to run jobs on a specific day of the month and set up jobs to run at a certain time for any number of days of the week, even multiple times daily. Tim adds, “We have a job that allocates inventory to our orders. Instead of setting up ten separate tasks to run ten times a day, I can build one task and run it ten different times. It really cuts down on setup time.”
When A. Schulman went to one shift at their corporate office, they wanted to be able to monitor their system 24/7 without an operator. So, they added Robot CONSOLE for message management and resource monitoring and Robot ALERT for event notification. Now, one person runs their help desk operation.
“We integrated these products into our help desk philosophy,” Tim explains. “During non-standard business hours, when there’s an error, Robot CONSOLE uses Robot ALERT to send a message. We’re notified proactively so we get involved before there’s a business impact—before users call in.”
Robot CONSOLE constantly monitors the pulse of their system, including QSYSOPR and disk utilization. If they cross a disk usage threshold, a warning message is issued to protect against runaway jobs. Tim adds, “We even use Robot CONSOLE to send messages to a Blackberry where we can answer them directly.”
"Before Robot, we had operators manually running these tasks daily. Now, they do more value-added tasks, like writing queries."
Simplicity and Scalability
Training, support, and ease-of-use are potential show stoppers with any product, but Tim has been really impressed with his Robot experience. “When we purchased the products, HelpSystems trainers came on-site and they were great. We also tried some webinars and I attended a user group session for hands-on training. You don’t need a lot of people to learn the products and it doesn’t take very long to learn them. As a result, it’s been very easy to automate.”
Expanded globalization is on the horizon for A. Schulman, and it’s easily within reach with the Robot products. Tim already has his eye on the enterprise plug-in for Robot SCHEDULE and is both interested and impressed. With Robot, he says, “We see the potential to have everything under one umbrella as we expand globally.”