Making the company easy to do business with was the main reason at Ricoh Canada Inc. why the Mississauga-based sales and distribution centre for Ricoh Corp. first launched its portal project. This wholly-owned subsidiary employs about 700 employees nationwide, providing a range of digital imaging systems and office equipment.
Ian Robinson, vice-president of information systems at Ricoh Canada, reports that the company wanted to improve on its communication internally and externally. That, in turn, required dealing with a lack of integration between applications that hampered access to data. Information from the company’s Baan ERP system was abundant but accessing it required moving from screen to screen to screen. An SAP AG enterprise portal implementation providing a managed framework of self-contained Web documents called iViews has proven successful in addressing those issues.
Today, a customer, dealer or employee logs into a portal and with a single authorized login can access all the appropriate information needed. Information is retrieved from different applications, such as IBM Corp.’s Lotus Notes, and multiple databases including Oracle, DB2 and several SQL server databases, and even another ERP system for a print facility that was once a separate business — plus from external Web sites.
“On the employee portal alone, we have about 33 iViews that are focusing just on the information that different employees may need,” Robinson explains. “Reports are coming from the ERP system, the HR system and some other homegrown applications. Every manager sees a complete coverage of all their employees in the portal. We are actually launching 10 applications within the portal and/or integrating information within those applications.”
Internal documents providing important product marketing information for sales and/or service staff are readily available and, when appropriate, will link to different U.S. sites to get additional information. Authorized product support staff can access information on any piece of hardware and, if necessary, download software from a U.S. site through the portal. Robinson says the portal plays a big role in maintaining good customer relationships. Significantly, the majority of Ricoh Canada’s customers are self-servicing, tracking their machine fleets, getting their current and past meter readings, service history, checking billing, sending queries, tracking deliveries by courier.
Truly, the sophisticated portal integration with its drag, drop and relate capability seems to offer a cornucopia of time-savers. For example, service technicians can drag a customer number over to MapQuest and get a map showing that customer’s location — all without keying anything in. When a serial number is dragged over to a service order history link, another iView opens showing all the service order history for that machine. A waybill number dragged to Federal Express, UPS or Purolator will automatically go to that courier’s Web site and bring up all the relevant tracking information. A customer issue log integrated with Lotus Notes helps deal with customer concerns or queries.
“Our customers have adopted it fabulously,” Robinson enthuses. “Now it is part of every single RFP that Ricoh responds to. Customers really appreciate it.”
“Customers can have their fleet information downloaded right on their machine just with one click,” says Robinson. “They can then just save it on their machine and download it into an Excel spreadsheet or whatever they want with it.”
Although getting to this level of integrated convenience was for Ricoh a slow-moving process over nearly five years, Robinson estimates that today two skilled consultants could shrink the time they experienced to just four to six months. When the project began, the Baan ERP system did not offer portal technology and so Ricoh worked with Top Tier, a portal software company later acquired by SAP in 2001. For the past three years, a local consultant has been working with the firm.
He admits that compatibility with different browser versions is sometimes an issue. Another initial problem was getting employees to use the portal. When Ricoh moved to new offices recently, the IT department set all the desktop browsers to open at the employee portal by default. That helped.
“No matter how easy things can be, it‘s a struggle,” Robinson says of employee usage. “But once people start using it they love it. For us the portal is just a fabulous growing environment.”
ADIDAS BUILDS ITS OWN
Paul Leone, vice-president of supply chain-logistics and IT at adidas-Salomon Canada, met with an initial reluctance among employees as well. The Concord, Ont.-based sporting goods manufacturer is responsible for the adidas, Salomon and TaylorMade/adidas golf brands in Canada.
“Anything new always takes time,” he says of the early skepticism. “Now we’re at a point that is like opening a tap that was on low and now is full blast and hard to control. Everyone’s all excited about the technology and understands the value of it. Now the challenge is to manage all the requests from company users.”
The IT department drove this effort, recognizing the opportunity to use the Internet as a self-service alternative for internal and external customers. Once the portal infrastructure was in place, the department had to promote its use. “Five years ago it might have been ‘could you run me a report that tells me how many widgets we sold to whomever?’ Now they want it all Web-based.”
Handling three brands of sporting goods, apparel footware and hard goods makes product returns a challenge. Leone says the company just went live in September on a Web-based returns model in conjunction with UPS to handle the golf business retailers’ product returns. Now, the retailer can call the company’s customer service group, get a return authorization number, pack up the return and call UPS for pick-up.
UPS is using the adidas-Salomon Canada system to generate shipment labels which integrate into the UPS system. The truck driver brings the labels to the store, sticks them on the box and starts the delivery procedure. The adidas-Salomon warehouse in Brantford, Ont., knows ahead of time what is coming in and plan to handle it. When the boxes arrive in the warehouse, they are simply scanned because they are also integrated with the wireless warehouse management system.
“We will have a lot less frustrated customers and a lot more happy people in our warehouse handling these returns more effectively,” says Leone. “The value to the customer is that they get credit a lot quicker.”
Adidas-Salomon Canada has three main portals:
• B2B for retail customers to go online and, for example, place orders, check shipping status of an order, check stock, look at a credit situation;
• B2E so Canadian employees can move away from logging in to a green screen environment to push and pull information;
• B2C where people in Canada can go online to locate a dealer or look at product offerings.
Leone says adidas-Salomon Canada is about eight months away from an e-commerce application.
He estimates that the savings from Web-enabling the entire enterprise IT infrastructure gave the firm an immediate ROI of four to one.
The company developed all three portals on its own using the Magic Software Enterprises’ eDeveloper toolkit. He says the investment for a three-seat licence plus some infrastructure needs such as a Web server totalled under $100,000. “For us, the Magic story has been a fantastic one,” Leone says. “It has allowed us to easily and quickly take our existing supply chain systems and get that product to our customers based on their requirements.”
Although there is an SAP movement globally within adidas-Salomon, the Canadian operation has an IBM AS/400 platform for the adidas and an HP 3000 platform to handle the order management for the Salomon and TaylorMade brands.
“With Magic, we’ve created one uniform platform that looks no different to an adidas or Salomon or TaylorMade person,” he explains. “The Web has allowed us to create a very flat and universal layer or portal so everybody can do what they need to on the Web with no need to log in to two or three different systems.”
But, he adds that the firm is able to take advantage of eDeveloper because adidas-Salomon is the owner or custodian of the supply chain systems that it uses, including the warehouse management system from Applications Solutions Inc. for the wireless, paperless warehouse, Syntax.net for financials and an order management system developed internally on an S1 platform.
Leone says people regard the Web as a complex environment that requires a lot of dollars, time and effort. “First understand what it is you’re wanting to do,” he advises. “Then determine if you have a lot of internal knowledge. Are you on a platform that you can support and directly connect to something like eDeveloper? If so, you’re halfway there.”
— Maclean, freelance writer/editor, covers a wide range of IT applications. She is based in Guelph, Ont. and can be reached at www.sumac.net.