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.

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 Copyright © 2011 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

From Mail Order to the Internet – The Shoe Shack Builds a Growing Business Using StoresOnline

We spent some hours every week learning how to market our website. It paid off greatly for us.
– Bryan Castleman, Co-owner, The Shoe Shack

How to Build an E-commerce Website?

In 2003 the Shoe Shack was a small mail order shoe business when it decided to make the leap to the Internet. However its first online store was relatively unsuccessful. “We really weren’t getting any traffic or sales,” said Bryan Castleman, co-owner of the Shoe Shack. Not wanting to give up, he searched for a better way to build and market an e-commerce website.

Today the Shoe Shack sells shoes, work boots, western boots, military boots and other footwear online at discounted prices. Its main website is shoeshackonline.com, and it operates several related niche websites that include discountedboots.com, workbootsuperstore.com and militarybootpros.com. It also has a retail storefront at its building in Martin, Tennessee, though 95% of its sales volume comes via the Internet.

After its first attempt at creating an e-commerce website, Castleman attended a conference for StoresOnline, an Internet company that provides a structured platform and simplified, do-it-yourself approach for building e-commerce websites. “We went to StoresOnline and saw how easy it was to build a website. It was somewhat laid out for you already, but you could also do your own customization,” he said. StoresOnline provides templates that users can customize with text and graphics. It has software tools for managing websites, products, customers, email and order processing. “With some of the places where we had a website, Yahoo! being one of them, we had to pay a commission of our sales. StoresOnline doesn’t ask for a commission of sales online. They are more of an e-commerce platform that you build on.”

“Marketing was the one aspect that stood out,” continued Castleman. “StoresOnline compiles all that in a marketing database. And then they give you strategies on how to use them for your website – how to optimize your website by doing meta tags, key words, image tags, all kinds of things that go with Internet marketing. We spent some hours every week learning how to market our website. It paid off greatly for us. We were able to get it up and running.”

StoresOnline also hosts websites in its data center. “They host my website on their servers, which are backed up. You can host them other places, or if you want to host them yourself, you can. We haven’t had a problem with our site being down. They’re a good one to go with,” he said.

Profits and Growth by Doing It Yourself

Since that time the Shoe Shack has enjoyed solid growth. “Before then we were really a small business. My father was the only employee. Now we’ve grown and have eight full-time employees and several part-time employees that work during the busy seasons and Christmas. Last year we had a twenty percent growth overall in our company… Being able to sell more online has allowed us to get capital and to buy close-out items that we can sell on eBay and in our retail store,” said Castleman.

The guided, do-it-yourself approach has worked well for the company. “A lot of people like to do things themselves because it does pay off. This is a way you can learn how to market all your websites by following their strategies. StoresOnline has videos that show you how to work on your website, how to put products up, how to build a page, how to put links on your page, things like that. You might need them to help set up, but we pretty much do everything ourselves,” he said.

“That makes us a little bit more profitable. It allows us every now and then to discount items that other, bigger companies might not be able to do. We can put more money into marketing because we have our own in-house marketing company.”

A Bump in the Road

But the road to success was not without bumps along the way. An oversight cost them a significant volume of business in 2005, though they eventually recovered. The Shoe Shack mistakenly thought they had renewed the domain name for their main website, but in fact it had expired. A scam artist bought the domain name for ten dollars and offered to sell it back to them for a million dollars cash. They declined, so the scammer set up the domain to filter orders to other online footwear businesses as an affiliate website. The Shoe Shack was forced to use a different name for its website and rebuild and re-market it.

“We were really upset about it. It taught us a good lesson to make sure our domain names are registered. When you buy a domain name, that is your business, that’s your name, that’s where your website is going to be hosted. We make sure now that everything is all together and check one or two times a year, if not more. Because that hurt us,” said Castleman.

Onward and Upward

The Shoe Shack continues to grow by developing new niche websites, most of which are related to footwear, such as workbootsuperstore.com and militarybootpros.com. Having learned how to build and market a website, Castleman is adept at creating new ones using the StoresOnline platform. Existing pages and products can be transferred over with some modifications to the text, links and tags. “We try to hit different niche markets. I buy several domain names that I might one day build a website on. That’s how I see our business and our company growing. And I love using StoresOnline because it seems so simple for me. I know how to use it, I’m comfortable with it, and it has been a good experience. I don’t plan to change,” he said.

“There are still a lot of things we don’t do that StoresOnline tells us we should do. As we grow and can hire more people, we’ll continue to do more and more online. The Internet is a huge business online and it’s somewhat never ending. There might be other people marketing online, but there is always a piece of the pie out there you can get in retail sales. You have to figure out what you can work with as a business.”

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Party Innovations Reinforces Its E-Commerce Website with Site Security Monitor

I had to go through every page in the website to clean it out. It was a major hassle.
– Jeff Sadowsky, Owner, Party Innovations

A Breach in the Website

Jeff Sadowsky, owner of Party Innovations, was surprised to see the customer forum on his company’s website had disappeared. “The forum was a place for customers to post messages and get a coupon to use on the website. One day the forum just vanished. It was a white page. I assumed there was some type of database error, so I emailed my hosting company to find out. After several hours, they finally got back with me and said our website had been maliciously attacked by hackers,” he said.

Party Innovations is a third-generation family business that made the leap to the Internet and e-commerce six years ago. Based in Brooklyn, New York, it is a distributor of promotional products and printed items for corporate events, weddings and other types of parties. The company’s website is its main sales channel and includes an e-commerce component for online orders.

About ten months prior to the breach, Sadowsky had deployed a McAfee security service for the website. The McAfee software scanned the site on a daily basis to detect and correct viruses and security vulnerabilities, but it did not catch the breach that erased the customer forum. “Here I am paying all this money for these services that were supposed to be protecting me, and it didn’t. The hackers knocked off parts of my website. I had to go through every page in the website to clean it out. It was a major hassle. I have thousands of HTML pages,” he said.

Fortunately the attack did not affect the e-commerce component of the website, and customer information was secure. But the experience left Sadowsky feeling unsettled and wanting a stronger solution for website security.

Site Security Monitor Shores Up the Site

After researching various security solutions, he picked Site Security Monitor (formerly known as 54F3). “They gave good reviews to that company. I called and spoke to a gentleman there, and he was helpful in getting it set up and assured me that it could detect for malware. And since then the issue seems to be resolved,” he said.

Site Security Monitor scans the website each day and sends Sadowsky a status report by email which categorizes security issues as low, medium and high level concerns. “Their service seems more proactive. I get the email every day and can see if there is something at a medium or high level. Then at least I can react and not have it go on for a period of time without knowing anything. We may have found one or two medium issues so far and corrected it right away. The other ones were minor and won’t affect anything,” he said.

Sadowsky also found Site Security Monitor to be more price-competitive. The fee was about 40% lower and charged on a monthly basis, whereas the previous service required a yearly commitment.

Like many businesses, Party Innovations relies extensively on its company website. This makes it an important asset to protect. After shoring up his company’s website, Sadowsky now feels much more confident about security. “I’m happy with this service so far. I like the fact that I have something that is also detecting for malware,” he said.

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 Copyright © 2010 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.

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 Copyright © 2009 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.