The best in the business
The finalists in the IT Industry Award are all leading the way in the development and practical application of e-business solutions in order to provide customer satisfaction and measurable success
With e-business come certain disciplines that can be of great benefit to implementers of Web systems. This is demonstrated in the case of IT retailer Basilica Computing. Cost savings are simply what organisations might expect as a result of Web automation, but Basilica has also added a self-service interface which encourages customers to adopt best practices, as well as to eliminate data errors.
The system is called Transact, built from Microsoft industry standard tools. It is aimed primarily at Basilica's existing customer base of more than 2,000 user organisations. Transact is a thin-client application, operating across a customised browser interface, with all business logic and customer profiling managed within the internal business system. Upstream, suppliers send messages to the system on a hourly basis for updating virtual availability, cost prices, obsolete parts, and URLs for product information. What the customer sees is therefore always reliable.
Since rolling out to 38 customers in May, Basilica has experienced gains on both accounts. On the one hand there has been a massive drop in the number of phone calls to account teams, in some cases by up to 75%. Self-service has resulted in a reduction of around 40% in the time spent managing a typical customer. This in turn allows more time to seek new business and provide proactive account management. By encouraging customers to use the rules-based bundles tool, a significant decrease in the number of ordering errors and returns is also expected. This helps the customer as well as Basilica, creating a win/win situation for all concerned.
Basilica has demonstrated that large amounts of money do not have to be spent on developing a complex project in order to make a real difference to a business' efficiency and profitability. It has developed an excellent interface that empowers the customer with the ability not only to set their own purchasing rules, but also to choose the data they need to view. What is innovative about this is that both the end customer and their IT department are able to take respective ownership of the relevant parts of the Transact system. Lastly, Basilica's Transact enables an open migration path for future integration with other business systems and technologies.
BT has built an internal system, Infoweb, for handling the procurement and support requests of 5,000 registered users who use IT services, from customers to support teams.
Launched in the spring, Infoweb has three distinct application functions accessible from its browser interface. Order Gateway provides customers with a single Web-based ordering point for the placement of desktop products and services. This element also provides tracking facilities. The IT Customers function deals with the reporting of faults to the IT service desk, logging complaints so that users can track their handling from the start. Infoweb also translates problem details into plain English and provides individuals with an accessible summary of the progress being made. IT Support Groups is the helpdesk end that allows support groups to monitor activity.
The primary benefit of Infoweb has been in providing a paperless environment for delivering IT support, bringing cost savings, manpower reductions, simplified processes and better service to users.
Maintenance has been reduced, and a feedback facility for users of the system allows for continuous improvements to be made. Success can be measured in terms of hit rates, currently running at 4,000 transactions a day, but just as important is the process and cultural change Infoweb represents. A legacy system has in effect been opened up to allow the whole company to access data, including individuals at international locations. A new technological environment has been implemented without having to ditch the original data or database structures.
BT's e-business operation successfully maintains its investment in older technologies, leveraging the use of both legacy systems and Web browsers. It is therefore able to give the impression of a new technological environment whilst still retaining original data and database structures. Users can access the information they need without having to access terse emulation screens. Infoweb is impressively designed and enables users to access the information they need, from wherever they want. Infoweb also decreases complexity and increases the efficiency of the business.
The ability of Web sites to transact tangible business automatically is a key measure of any e-business effort. Unfortunately, it is also an area where many Web sites are found wanting. Watford Electronics has devised a site which succeeds, notably in the crucial aspect of automatically forwarding orders to suppliers, as well as by keeping customers informed at all times during the sales cycle. In fact, in the 18 months since the company has had the Web site, its supply chain has become entirely virtual, so it now holds no stock at all.
The back-office system lies at the heart of this level of functionality, and has been developed from a fully featured enterprise resource planning package, Masterpack. The electronic data interchange (EDI) module of Masterpack has been utilised to automatically import orders into the system and export customer details out. It sends a message to suppliers with instructions on where to ship items. Credit card authorisation is performed on the back-office system too. When an EDI message is received back from a supplier confirming dispatch, the card is charged. The site has done extraordinarily well. Since the first build went live in May 1999 - the firm is now on the fourth build - it has generated £500,000 revenue per month, attracted 38,000 new customers per month, and is scoring six million hits per month. Set-up costs were £2m.
The project began as a toe-dipping exercise, to see whether the Web could carry product information and take orders. From that point, the company has developed fast to become truly virtual. It is now able to sell goods at low margins and has tremendous potential for growth.
Watford Electronics has very impressively integrated a wide range of software and hardware products into its e-business strategy. It has succeeded in turning an extremely complex set of business processes into an easy-to-use system that effectively increases its business efficiency and revenue by a factor of 10. The company has also deployed an exceptional automated product life-cycle management that includes the ability to track the company's goods from its Watford base. In addition, this enables the efficient tracking of goods between suppliers and customer-based couriers.