Supply chain outfit starts up with some familiar offerings

When the Burlington, Ont. company he worked for as chief technology officer went bust, David Kuehner saw value in its supply chain management software. He secured its rights and now, two years later, a new company known as B2B Connex is ready to make another go of it.

Kuehner said the old company was primarily a consulting business, and didn’t really want to become a software product company. He saw potential, though, in the supply chain management software that had been developed with a number of the company’s clients.

“In purchasing, a company needs to be able to communicate a purchase order to a supplier, and in the past that was mailed, but now it is probably faxed or e-mailed,” said Kuehner. “Those are all good solutions, but they don’t, I think, go far enough.”

After he acquired the rights, Kuehner spent two years working with a pair of primary clients to improve the application, a Web-based tool for purchasing and supply chain management.

The application sees purchase orders posted to a Web server, with the supplier notified by an e-mail with a link to view the order in their browser. Data entry, such as a request for a price change, can be done on screen, and if approved, the change is automatically fed into their backend systems, such as an SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite, reducing the error potential that comes with manual data entry.

“The big benefit is things are done correctly and they’re not lost,” said Kuehner. “We’re making the communication between a company, and both their suppliers and customers, smoother and more accurate.”

One of the long-term customers Kuehner worked with closely during B2B Connex’s “under-the-radar” period is Briggs & Stratton, an international engine and machinery manufacturer based in Milwaukee.

Art Nelson, IT business process lead, product lifecycle management with Briggs & Stratton, said the previous firm hit his radar screen three to four years ago when they were looking for a Web-based tool to communicate with their maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) vendors.

“We had looked at three or four different solutions, only to realize that most of them were very expensive and very complicated,” said Nelson.

He said B2B Connex’s application was relatively inexpensive compared to the other competitors because it offered just the capabilities that were needed and was focused on their business needs.

The application is being used at 10 Briggs & Stratton plants across the U.S., and by 20 external vendors. By communicating with vendors via the Web rather than by snail mail or by fax, Nelson said information is received more quickly and they’re more confident that it was received.

By feeding information into the company’s backend systems electronically, including matching purchase order information and fulfillment with invoices, Nelson said the company’s accounts payable department has become comfortable enough to pay vendors electronically, which has allowed the company to negotiate better prices.

Nelson said Briggs & Stratton has been working closely with B2B Connex to improve the product, and a number of their suggestions have been incorporated into the tool.

While Nelson said he did look at making alternate arrangements when the old company was going out of business, including a consideration around acquiring a copy of the source code in case they needed to maintain it for themselves, Nelson said Briggs & Stratton has been very satisfied with the software’s performance.

“As long as B2B Connex is still with us and still maintaining the system, we’re very happy with staying there,” said Nelson.

Kuehner said he’s not surprised that companies have stuck with B2B Connex’s software suite through a few years of limbo, saying that while it’s nice to be able to buy from an industry giant, there are some niches where the big guys just don’t play.

“When you’ve got this kind of a new product, it’s recognized there’s no one that’s been selling this kind of thing for 10 years, so it’s going to be a newer startup,” said Kuehner. “Some people are concerned, and they’ll only buy from Microsoft or IBM, but then they won’t get the latest and greatest.”

Now, though, Kuehner said B2B Connex is ready to take the suite to the wider market.

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