Concrete supplier gets into the e-business mix

For a traditional construction materials supplier like Dufferin Concrete, implementing a new e-business portal – Dufferin Concrete Online – is a sign of the IT times.

“We’ve done business in the traditional fashion since time immemorial,” said Dufferin Concrete general manager Louis Morissette. “This helps us to join the twenty-first century.”

Originally founded in 1930, Dufferin Concrete, an Ontario-based ready-mix concrete supplier of materials for building highways and roads, was looking for new ways to interact with customers. Traditional operating methods, such as using paper-based tracking methods and physically sending out salespeople to meet with regional customers, were driving up costs.

Web services have meant a change in the way enterprises interact – customers are becoming a lot more tech-savvy, Morissette said. At the same time, both large and small-level contractors are becoming more progressive with respect to technology and ordering material online.

The portal initiative makes Dufferin one of the first in the construction industry to offer such e-business services to its customers and partners. But Dufferin didn’t want to tackle such a huge e-business undertaking alone.

The goal, according to Morissette, was to establish an secure online presence and encourage its partners to conduct business online. Dufferin needed a solution that would interface easily with its existing IT systems, according to Morissette.

“You shouldn’t be looking for best-of-breed that isn’t going to interface easily with existing systems,” he said.

To stay within budget, the company partnered with Concord, Ont.-based iSTARK Inc. to provide the integrated platform. iSTARK, is an e-business portal solutions provider that specializes in the cement and concrete community.

The portal suite geared for medium to large-sized organizations features commerce, content and collaboration tools, noted iSTARK president Dave Codack, all of which tie in with an organizations’ ERP system.

The portal is intended to provide multiple “touch points” or interaction with the customer, Codack said. The iSTARK Portal Suite provides a “single view” into all of the information assets. The core features include real-time product ordering, shipping status, account information and online access to bills. The platform allows Dufferin to automatically link and interact with its various partners within the distribution chain and provides regional information, such as weather forecasts, necessary for purchasing planning.

On the maintenance side, the new technology won’t initially impact Dufferin’s IT staff. ISTARK is tied into the system to implement ongoing maintenance and upgrades, Codack said.

The initial open pilot project began in February, Morrissette said, involving a select number of customers.The site is due to go live this spring. Using the portal will cut Dufferin’s delivery time, and also streamline its manual paper-based administration and ordering processes.

The measure of success, noted Morissette, is in how quickly customers have adopted the new system. To date Dufferin has attracted 60 of its premium Ontario-based customers to take advantage of its e-services. The more customers are aware of the new system, the more they can realize the benefits, Morissette said.