Relationships Can Flourish by Going Online
"We perform what we call a point analysis of the company's internal process or infrastructure," explained Wakefield. "This is to determine if order status, shipment tracking, inventory and pricing data are readily obtained from a central electronic source."
While inbound e-business services, such as orders and quote requests, may be doable via a swivel-chair interface—someone typing data from one system into another—Wakefield noted that outbound services, such as order status, shipment tracking and available inventory, require an on-demand solution. "Non-automated processing can actually cause e-business transactions to cost more than fax, phone and mail transactions," he said.
For example, Wakefield had one client who needed to provide online shipment tracking with direct links to UPS, FedEx, Airborne and other carriers. However, the shipping program was not integrated with the order management system and the tracking numbers were simply written on the paper order form and filed.
Without this integration, someone would have to constantly round up all of the shipped orders and type the order number and associated tracking number into a special tool on the Web site.
"Obviously this is prone to errors and not very efficient or timely," said Wakefield. "Integration links the data to the central server immediately upon shipping so it's available for the Web system to query upon customer request."
Another of Sword Microsystems' clients managed inventory for several large companies, issuing releases regularly and replenishing inventory as scheduled. The largest company wanted to electronically ex-change forecast data with the client in order to compare usage and production schedules. The problem, explained Wakefield, was that production schedules were being maintained by three different schedulers in various forms of Excel, and the production status was only available by walking back to the press and asking for it. "Since the data needed to exist in a single, consistent manner and location in order to be accessible via the Web upon request, standardization and central management needed to occur before the e-business interfaces could be provided to the customer," he said.