Auckland integration company Axon Computertime is attributing a 45% increase in its product business to its Quality Direct Web e-commerce platform and it has now further enhanced the e-commerce Web site.
Quality Direct is a division of Axon involving system-to-system links between its
e-commerce system, core business systems and systems of key suppliers and manufacturers. It enables customers to perform a variety of tasks including sophisticated product searches, placing orders, checking the status of orders and getting copies of invoices. Benefits
There are numerous quantifiable benefits, says Axon marketing and client services general manager Scott Green. He says the biggest indicator of success is whether the system helps generate new business. "We’ve just finished our last financial year and our product business was up 45% over last year … I think you could say it’s pretty much totally attributable to this service, that customers are saying: ‘Yes, we can see some real benefits and, yes, we will do business with Quality Direct and Axon rather than other suppliers’." While nine months ago Quality Direct was running at 50% accuracy of shipment to ETA (estimated time of arrival) dates, this has increased to 98% accuracy in the past three months. "That’s not about Web functionality — it’s about how you’ve integrated it into your core business systems and how you’ve integrated your core business systems with your suppliers’ core business systems," says Green. Time is saved on phone calls. Traditionally, when customers wanted an update on the status of their order or a copy of an invoice, they made a phone call. Green says about 30% of such enquires are now coming through the Web site. When orders are received by traditional means — fax, for example — there is a lot of re-keying and potential for errors. Now, about 15% of orders are processed via the Web which saves time, including time on the delivery process. "It flows through so much faster." The average delivery time (from when the order is placed to when the customer receives the goods) has reduced over the past 18 months to about 80% of what it was, says Green. "We relate that to better processes, clearer expectations of suppliers and more instances of where we’ve got suppliers shipping directly to an end-user so it doesn’t have to come into our warehouse before it goes back out to a customer again." Green expects all these indicators to become more and more positive as more companies have browsers as their primary access point to information. Challenges
Green says some suppliers have been slower at accepting the changes than others. He says the basic principles of change management apply. "You’ve got to clearly sell the benefits of a customer changing their behaviour, because if you just turn around and say: ‘We’d like you to enter our orders for us because it’s going to save us lots of time’ — it’s not necessarily a compelling proposition for the customer." If customers aren’t comfortable — or aren’t able technologically — to take advantage of the service, then they will continue to use traditional means of ordering. Scott says the biggest hurdle — going back three years — is having core business systems capable of producing quality information. A lot of work had to be done to get manufacturers and distributors to share quality information that Axon could then push back out to its customers. Green believes that having an established bricks-and-mortar business with good relationships with key vendors has been vital to the success of Quality Direct. "It’s been absolutely critical to getting the necessary support from them to change things in their business to adapt to this. We wouldn’t have had the leverage to do that if we’d just been a start-up and went along to Compaq and said: ‘Hey, if you completely change your business systems we can sell a bit of your kit’." Advice
"E-commerce might be seen as only a small part of a company’s business, but in two years’ time it will be its core business, so therefore you need to develop an e-commerce platform as your core business system," says Green. "Start small and grow quickly. Try to deliver early benefits and build on them based on real customers’ feedback rather than trying to build the perfect solution before you actually tell anyone about it. And factor in more time than you think." Technology
Until recently, Axon had been running IBM’s Net.Commerce, but the site has been redeveloped using Microsoft Commerce Server. Green says Axon changed to Microsoft for a number of reasons: Microsoft has a clearer e-commerce strategy than it did when Axon first embarked on the development nearly three years ago. The Microsoft solution is very modular and therefore flexible in terms of immediate and future development requirements The platform performance is good and the quality of local support personnel is high. The fact that it’s now being widely used worldwide — and uses standard Microsoft tools — means there is an opportunity to tap into third party skills and application components, to add new functionality. The emergence of BizTalk from Microsoft (which allows integration of disparate business applications with XML (Extensible Markup Language). The site is hosted at Axon on two Compaq ProLiant servers (one is a production Web server and one is a production database server). Green says many improvements have been made to the site in the latest version, including better personalisation capabilities and an improved search functionality. He says the updated version of the site is not just about a better look and feel, but quality data. The company has been working with suppliers to make sure the information it has about suppliers’ stock is accurate. Building block solution
Axon has taken the solution it developed for Quality Direct and is now offering it to customers as a starter-kit for them to implement their own procurement automation solution. The final version will be available at the beginning of December. Developers: Axon (in-house) Technology: Microsoft Commerce Server Hosting: Axon (on Compaq ProLiant servers) If you’d like to suggest a Web site, contact Kirstin Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.