PIAB Turns to IBM Cast Iron Systems for Fast ERP Integration: Integrate in Days, ROI in Nine Months

We certainly didn’t have months to get this done. We had to get it up and running within about 30 to 45 days.
– Greg Anderson, Global IT Manager, PIAB

ERP Systems Do Not Talk

When the Swedish company PIAB decided to implement a global just-in-time inventory model, it had to find a way to integrate its various ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems which were unable to communicate with each other. “We have offices in about 18 different countries, and each of them have individual ERP systems,” said Greg Anderson, Global IT Manager for PIAB. “The biggest issue we had is the amount of double-entry that was required once an order was placed. In the UK, for instance, there was a lot of manual work being done to process an order through the local ERP system and into our main system in Sweden, and also to transfer the information back.” The new model required a more efficient approach to order processing.

Based in Taby, Sweden, PIAB provides industrial vacuum solutions for material handling and factory automation. It serves a variety of industries including food and consumer products, automotive and electronics.

The purpose of the just-in-time inventory model was to streamline PIAB’s supply chain, reduce costs and improve customer service. “We were changing our warehouse model to go from smaller supply at local offices to centralized supply and faster delivery to the customer. So instead of having large bulk orders, we were changing to smaller, direct-ship customer orders,” said Anderson. To handle this larger volume of orders, PIAB needed to automate its order processing more fully.

The different ERP systems in its country offices were the result of organic growth and development. As the company grew and opened offices in new geographies, the local teams put in place business systems to meet their local requirements. Over time this led to a patchwork of ERP systems, many of which could not communicate with each other or with headquarters.

When the directive came down from the company’s board to integrate the ERP systems, the IT department was immediately under time pressure to complete the project. “We certainly didn’t have months to get this done. We had to get it up and running within about 30 to 45 days,” he said.

IBM WebSphere Cast Iron Cloud Integration

PIAB evaluated multiple integration technologies and vendors before choosing IBM WebSphere Cast Iron Cloud integration. It considered EDI (electronic data interchange), but found these solutions were relatively difficult and costly to implement for its environment. Other technologies tended to specialize in a single application or process, such as a technology that integrated very well with Salesforce CRM, but lacked open and flexible connections in other areas. “Cast Iron seemed to have the most connectors. They advertise quite well on their website to show how open the connectivity is. And the biggest thing is, we were under a deadline to put this system in place. Cast Iron had the tagline of ‘integrate in days,’ which was basically how much time I had,” said Anderson.

For the initial phase of the project, PIAB integrated its ERP systems in the UK and France with its headquarters in Sweden. It used an IBM Cast Iron Physical Appliance that performs the translation between the systems. “It is a complicated process that we have – checking stock, classifying orders as to whether they need further handling, how people are notified about what to do, whether an order is valid in a particular location. The appliance handles quite a bit of logic,” said Anderson. “We brought in a technical consultant from Cast Iron to work with us here. We wrote the integration project in about two weeks. There was a little delay when one of the local developers was writing the web services interface at the end point level. But everything went really well. The surprising part was how well it worked and how well it has run since then, considering how fast we had to implement it.”

ROI in Nine Months

Anderson is pleased with the outcome: “We saw a nine-month ROI on this particular project.” Cost savings came from fewer hours spent entering data, less inventory in the supply chain and reduced local warehousing and office space. Customers benefit from faster delivery. The speed of implementation was especially important in this case. “It could easily have taken nine months to a year to try to program something internally, which would have slowed down our process of adopting this model.”

“I’m confident of how reliable Cast Iron is. I don’t have to worry about it failing, which is good because I don’t want to get a call at three in the morning, waking me up in the middle of the night because things are not working in Europe.”

Since the initial project, PIAB has rolled out additional integrations with WebSphere Cast Iron Cloud integration, such as connecting Salesforce CRM with the ERP system for its office in Germany. Now sales personnel can see all of a customer’s history and detail within a single tool. These follow-on projects have an even faster ROI because the integration appliance is already in place and PIAB has gained skills in creating integrations using Cast Iron.

“So we have continued to see benefit from Cast Iron, even more than our ERP systems. I’m really happy with the choice we made,” said Anderson.

AIT_Profiles_Blogocon_small

 Copyright © 2011 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

College Pro Turns to Interactive Web Technology For Engaging Its Franchisees and Customers

From Static to Interactive Website

A couple of years ago, College Pro decided to take advantage of the latest web technologies for engaging its franchisees and customers. Its website at the time was informational and contained static content. It wanted to take a step further and make the site more user-friendly, dynamic, interactive and better able to support the overall business.

Based in Ontario, Canada, College Pro is a student painting company that recruits and trains student franchise managers to run their own local painting businesses. It has 530 franchisees in 28 U.S. states and 7 Canadian provinces across North America.

As college students who grew up using computers and the Internet, the franchisees and painters tended to be tech-savvy and open to using new web technologies.

“In 2007, we put out a request for proposal for our website. We had four companies come in to give a pitch,” said April Broome, Controller and Director of IT at College Pro. College Pro chose to enlist ChannelNet, a company that specializes in using interactive technologies to improve channel effectiveness. “We went with ChannelNet because of their experience with micro-sites, which they had done for other customers. And they had a very good back-end platform for updating the site ourselves.”

Micro-sites and Virtual Water Cooler

Broome continued, “We redid the whole website to make it more interactive. We created micro-sites for our franchisees, and they all have separate sites that link into our corporate site.” The micro-site feature provides a four-page template that franchisees can fill out to create a dedicated website for their business. “We also made our site more user-friendly. So it has more video and pictures and a lot less static content.”

More recently, College Pro rolled out another technology that it calls the Water Cooler. This is a content management platform provided by ChannelNet that contains training modules, notes and other useful information for staff, franchise managers and painters. Based on access privileges, they can log in and see content appropriate for their role. Additionally, the Water Cooler has Web 2.0 features like wikis and blogs that enable franchisees to communicate with and assist each other.

Franchise managers and painters have been pleased with the improvements to College Pro’s website, especially the ease of creating micro-sites for promoting their own local businesses. For College Pro, it is now easier to distribute information and interact with its channel.

Moreover, College Pro has continued to do well financially, even in this challenging economic environment. The web improvements have been a part of this success.

We are open for business and ready to go!
– April Broome, Controller and Director of IT, College Pro

Next Up Are Customer Enhancements

As a future project, College Pro is considering how to use interactive technology to improve the customer experience. “We started conversations about what can we do for the customer, such as a customer portal or mini-site where they can get information about previous jobs or book a new job. Right now, a customer can request an estimate on the site, but that’s about it. We want it to be more dynamic, so they can do more things without having to make a phone call,” said Broome.

“And we are looking at handheld technologies, like iPhones, and how that can be incorporated for the student as well as the customer.”

As College Pro looks toward to 2010, it is optimistic and believes its website enhancements have put it in a stronger position. “We are open for business and ready to go!” she said.

AIT_Profiles_Blogocon_small

 Copyright © 2009 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

iAmplify Partners with Photon Infotech to Enable Audio and Video Self-Publishing for the Masses

There’s going to be many, many authors and lecturers and experts that have incredibly rich and valuable content that we can monetize.”
– Murray Hidary, CEO and Co-Founder, iAmplify

A Serendipitous Start

Murray Hidary, CEO and Co-Founder of iAmplify, discovered the idea for his business by chance one evening. “I was having dinner with a friend of mine, and she’s a New York Times best-selling author. Her name is Marianne Williamson,” said Hidary. “And she has been giving lectures for the past fifteen to twenty years, in addition to writing books. And I asked her, Marianne, where are the hundreds of lectures, the recordings, that you have given over the last fifteen to twenty years? It turns out that when they are recorded at a live event, they are sent to a warehouse in Carlsbad, California, and they are sitting in boxes and they are not being monetized.”

“So I literally went to L.A., drove down to Carlsbad, put all these boxes of content into my car, went back and got them digitized, turned them into MP3 and MP4 files. We built a prototype of our platform and announced it on her website, that for the first time you can get access to these incredible archives of content from Marianne Williamson for ten dollars a month. Every week we are going to send you another lecture. And instantly it turned into a six-figure business out of thin air. So I said, well, I think there’s something here! If this works for Marianne, there’s going to be many, many authors and lecturers and experts that have incredibly rich and valuable content that we can monetize.”

After this serendipitous start, Hidary worked to turn the vision into a reality and launched iAmplify a little over a year ago. iAmplify is an online store for expert video and audio downloads, comparable to YouTube, but with expert-level, premium content and the ability to buy and sell. Topics include educational seminars, fitness workouts, language learning, financial information and self-help.

The purpose of iAmplify is “to empower and enable the content owners of audio and video to self-publish and monetize that content on the web,” according to Hidary. “For certain types of content, our model is going to work really well. It’s not going to make sense for a lecturer on relationships or a Pilates or yoga teacher to offer their content free for ads. It just won’t generate enough views to give them any significant money. But with our model, they can monetize their content and create a really robust new revenue stream for themselves.”

Building the Technology Foundation – The Media Factory

The most significant challenge in launching iAmplify was to develop a technology platform for uploading, delivering, buying and selling audio and video content. Named the Media Factory, this technology would be the foundation of the business and had to be functional, easy to use, scalable and cost-effective.

“It was quite a challenge to put the different pieces of this puzzle together,” said Hidary. “We had to make the web interface easy to use and simple to navigate for people with no technology experience. Our platform is not for programmers and sophisticated users. We have people who have never been on the web before, coming onto our site and uploading and selling without any scripting or programming experience. So it had to be incredibly easy to use for the non-technical person.”

“Number two, it had to have all the digital content management – meaning it needed to handle all kinds of file formats for audio and video, and be able to store and deliver those files in an efficient and scalable way. And that’s not trivial when you’re dealing with literally terabytes of video and audio files.”

“Another piece is the e-commerce component. It’s a transactional model, so we need to take credit cards and also recur billing those credit cards if they have a monthly or annual subscription.”

“And then the final piece is customer service. One of the things we had to do is completely integrate our platform so that customers can use it seamlessly with iTunes and their iPod as well as just download to watch on their computer. So you can download a course in how to play poker, and you’re on a plane to Vegas, you can watch it. It’s a portable, on-the-go type of experience. And there are a lot of people doing this for the first time and need help getting the video or audio onto their portable device, in most cases an iPod or an iPhone,” he said.

iAmplify Enlists Photon Infotech

iAmplify decided to partner with the IT consulting firm Photon Infotech to develop, maintain, support and market its Media Factory platform. Hidary continued, “We basically had an in-house team which developed the first version. And then, for a little over a year, we’ve been working with Photon as our technology partner to scale and take this to the next level. They’ve done a great job at both maintaining the current system as well as adding incredible functionality as our customers and expert publishers have asked for additional features.”

Photon Infotech reengineered the system to scale and handle a much larger user base. It added new features, for instance, a widget that allows affiliates or distribution partners to sell content on their own websites. The widget tracks sales so iAmplify can send commission checks to affiliates. Photon also handles ongoing administration of the Media Factory, scaling up capacity as demand increases and making sure the system remains online and delivers content 24/7.

If you have your audio and video content, you can upload it into iAmplify as easily as uploading it into YouTube.”
– Murray Hidary

Simplified and Automated User Experience

As a result of this joint development effort, iAmplify can now offer a highly automated experience of publishing and selling content online. “If you have your audio and video content, you can upload it into iAmplify as easily as uploading it into YouTube – click, browse and upload,” said Hidary. “And then you can set all the rules for how you want to sell your content, your business model.” This can range from selling individual downloads, bundles of content bundles and subscription services where customers periodically receive new downloads from a favorite lecturer or author. The iAmplify Media Factory handles all of the content delivery and billing.

Buying and downloading content is also simplified through integration with iTunes. “On our site, the customer literally hits one button which says ‘send to iTunes,’ and from that moment on, their entire library of whatever they buy through iAmplify automatically feeds into iTunes on their computer, and by definition onto their iPod, etc.” he said.

This is a deep partnership.”
– Murray Hidary

Streamlined, Growing Business

Hidary likes how the partnership with Photon Infotech has streamlined his organization and enabled it to scale. “So that’s probably the best part of this,” he said. “We had a lot of this in-house, both in terms of the programming team as well as systems administration and customer service, but having Photon as our partner has enabled us to outsource those functionalities and to have more capability at a lower cost. They’ve been able to help us scale as we’ve grown with our customers.”

iAmplify has grown the number of publishers on its site over the past year, both big media companies like Martha Stewart and Meredith Corporation as well as individual experts that want to self-publish. For the big media companies, iAmplify’s Media Factory serves as a back-end fulfillment engine. For instance, when a customer on the Martha Stewart website buys a cooking video, the Media Factory actually performs the content download and transaction, though it all appears seamless to the user.

“Most of these media companies have typically made their money through advertising and sponsorship models. I think what many companies have seen in the last year, given the softness in advertising and the economy, is that they are looking to diversify those revenue streams from just advertising to premium paid content as well. They are turning to iAmplify as their partner for that part of their business model,” said Hidary.

iAmplify plans to continue scaling its business by attracting new media companies and self-publishers, and Photon Infotech plays an important role here. Hidary continued, “They are the ones helping our partners launch these download stores. So each time we launch one of these big partnerships, we have a branded store with our partner’s look and feel and logo and brand, and that work is done by Photon. And the self-publishers – there is a lot of research that goes into finding these experts, and Photon has a team that is helping us with that as well. This is a deep partnership.”

AIT_Profiles_Blogocon_small

 Copyright © 2009 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.