Webforms simplifies document exchange

COMMERCE: Webforms 3.0 aims to unite David-and-Goliath-size trading partners in the same e-commerce community by providing them with a Web-based Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) capability.

Requiring only a standard Web browser, either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, COMMERCE: Webforms from Sterling Commerce is HTML-based software that allows smaller suppliers to exchange documents such as purchase orders, invoices and shipping notices with a larger trading partner.

“It’s a very low-cost solution that can EDI-enable them with just a browser and an Internet connection and a computer…it allows them to begin doing EDI with (the larger partner) although it doesn’t appear that they are doing EDI,” said Lori Conners, product manager of Internet solutions for Sterling Commerce in Columbus, Ohio.

“All they are doing is filling out an invoice or a purchase order or any type of transaction set on-line and submitting it. What happens behind the scenes is it gets translated into EDI and sent up to the network where a larger customer can pick it up and do what needs to be done,” she explained.

Version 3.0 includes functional acknowledgements, or notification of successful receipt of a document, document turnaround capabilities and e-mail notification of awaiting documents.

Garry Choo, e-commerce manager for Toronto-based Dylex Ltd., a specialty retailer whose operating divisions include BiWay, Braemar, Fairweather, Thriftys and Tip Top, has been testing the software for about six weeks and said the e-mail notification is a helpful feature for suppliers.

“Whenever a purchase order shows up in the mailbox, they will get an e-mail saying they have a message, rather than having to go in once a day to check for orders,” Choo said.

The document turnaround is also helpful, Choo added, because “we deal with a lot of apparel suppliers in Canada and a lot of them don’t have EDI capability. If we can just send (the purchase order) out to the Sterling Commerce solution, and they can turn it around into an invoice, it will come back to us in an EDI format. Then it all comes from one pipeline to our system.”

The process for using COMMERCE: Webforms begins with a sponsoring company, or large trading partner, who works with Sterling Commerce to develop customized templates, or Webforms, to meet their specific requirements. The forms are made available to the company’s commerce partners via a secure Web server managed by Sterling Commerce.

By doing so, an electronic commerce community is created, allowing smaller commerce partners to visit the site at any time with their user names and passwords. While there, they can create and submit electronic documents like purchase orders and invoices, read documents and monitor in and outboxes for the status of their documents.

Larry Kraus, president of Great Lakes Coating and Laminating, a smaller trading partner in Minneapolis who uses COMMERCE: Webforms, said the product saves both time and errors.

“When the information comes to me on a purchase order, if it isn’t correct I can see that and I can talk to the purchasing person and correct that instantaneously,” Kraus said. Not only are the differences reconciled before the paperwork gets through, but “I get paid like clockwork,” he added.

“The thing I like about it…is that it eliminates about 10 days in the billing cycle. When I do work for my customer, I let them know the work is done. They use Webforms to get me the purchase order, I get that the same day and I’m able to invoice the same day,” he explained.

Kraus, who by his own admission is not an MIS expert, said the process is simple and easy to use.

Choo agreed. “The only thing we had to get sorted out were how the technical folks (at Sterling) were putting together the documents on the screen,” he said. Although it takes a bit of “back and forth work” to describe the desired look and feel of the documents, Choo said, “you only have to do it once.”

And COMMERCE:Webforms 3.0 helps “eliminate a lot of lost orders and delayed orders because we know when the vendor picks up or reads their purchase order,” Choo added.

COMMERCE: Webforms (www.sterlingcommerce.com/pdsv/ploc/comm/wfrm/index.html) is priced at $53.95 per month for transaction volumes of up to 40 documents a month, with a one-time registration fee of $35.00. Fees for companies that wish to sponsor a commerce community vary based on the number of forms developed and the community management services utilized.

Sterling Commerce in Toronto is at (416) 756-3000.