Whirlpool Soothes Highs and Lows

By Lynn Haber  |  Posted 2006-12-06 Print this article Print

The global appliance maker finds a fix for low-tech and high-expectation customers with document automation.

Whirlpool, a $13 billion global manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances, credits its success in the industry to innovation, a focus on customer needs, productivity and quality. So its no surprise that when company executives looked in-house at Whirlpools order-related business processes and recognized less-than-stellar practices, they set out to meet the challenge head-on. "We wanted to get out of the paper-shuffling business and be in the value-add business," said Brian Murphy, director of e-services in Whirlpools Global Information Systems development group, in Benton Harbor, Mich. With the help of Eskers DeliveryWare 4.0 and Dolphins SAP integration expertise, Whirlpool undertook a multifaceted document automation project that not only promises cost and time savings but also will facilitate a shift from no-value activities to revenue-generating activities.
"For us, one of the most important ROI [return on investment] benefits well realize is being able to add value to customer service, such as dealing with customer issues, facilitating faster delivery, growing the business and ensuring customer loyalty," said Murphy.
For IT partners Esker and Dolphin, the worldwide enterprise agreement with industry giant Whirlpool is a coup and among the largest projects taken on to date by each company. "Eskers strength is providing a solution for document delivery by mapping business processes and reducing any pains the customer may have by streamlining and simplifying those processes. Dolphin knows how to leverage native technology in SAP and deliver business process optimization for SAP modules," said Michael Krust, vice president of sales at Dolphin, in San Mateo, Calif. "Together, we combine the best of both worlds." On the receiving end of more than 2 billion order-related documents annually at Whirlpools Knoxville, Tenn., facility—where Whirlpools order entry department works with Whirlpools contractor channel—Murphy saw the writing on the wall. "We knew that the challenge of dealing with a lot of phone and fax orders was only going to grow with the recent purchase of Maytag Corp.," Murphy said. "Our goal became to automate as much as possible." Whirlpools acquisition of Maytag was finalized in March. According to Mike Wenzel, vice president of sales and marketing for the Americas at Eskers Madison, Wis., U.S. headquarters, Whirlpools contractor channel includes builders, developers and suppliers whose business revolves around new or revitalized construction. Many of these organizations run relatively low-tech operations, and incoming orders are received via mail, phone, fax or electronically as e-mail attachments. "Whirlpool struggled with having to do a lot of manual order entry," Wenzel said. In addition, Whirlpool was subject to all the problems associated with labor-intensive manual processes, such as long order process times, the potential for misplaced or lost paperwork, errors, and a poor grasp of the workflow process. When Murphys group decided to move ahead with its document automation project in late summer of 2005, Esker, along with several other vendors, made a bid to get the contract. At that time, Esker already had an eight-year relationship with Whirlpool. The appliance manufacturer and marketers U.S. operations used Eskers Fax Server software for outbound faxing. Murphy said Whirlpools desire to leverage its existing investment in Esker software, coupled with the availability of Eskers Delivery-Ware 4.0 and Eskers two-year relationship with Dolphin, brought to the table an impressive duo. BPM (business process management) vendors explore their options. Click here to read more. "We knew Esker, and since we had already paid for the Fax Server software, it made sense to leverage that investment," said Murphy. Eskers DeliveryWare 4.0 software also met Whirlpools criteria for document management, such as distributed outbound faxing, OCR (optical character recognition) and workflow. "On top of that was Dolphins SAP integration expertise. That got a high score," said Murphy. Today, Whirlpool sees Esker and Dolphin as a team. "For us, the two partners are synonymous," Murphy said. According to Wenzel, the project included Esker configuring a three-tiered architecture that included a Microsoft cluster for DeliveryWare, a two-node server in production, another two-node server for quality assurance and multiple development servers. "Now that Esker offers front-end OCR capability, their solution can scan a document [and] do a pass with their dynamic document capture tool to our PTS/AP [Process Tracking System for Accounts Payable], and the customer can have a nice end-to-end accounts payable order," Krust said. "By putting in front-end capture, Esker broadened the value proposition of their solution." Dolphins PTS is tightly integrated with SAP Business Workflow technology and uses the SAP ArchiveLink imaging interface for electronic document processing. The companys PTS offerings—PTS/AP and PTS/OM (Order Management)—came into being approximately four years ago when Dolphin decided to productize what was essentially custom integration work. "We recognized the opportunity to take what was nine months worth of customized project work and turn it into a four-week turnkey solution," said Krust. Both Esker and Dolphin met with Whirlpool representatives early on to help define the companys business processes and calculate ROI. "Initially, an ROI of about nine months was calculated, based on savings on paper and labor costs," Wenzel said of the initial phase of the project. He said the ROI numbers will improve when more advanced functionality is made available during the latter phases of the project. In the early implementation, Wenzel said, when an order comes in, DeliveryWare will scan the image to make it text, look up who the order needs to go to and provide notification, at which point the order can be opened in a Web-based client and then the electronic data is pushed into SAP transactions for processing work items and creating a sales order. Order entry workers retain the ability to do manual exceptions handling, such as dealing with price discrepancies. The initial work got under way in January 2006 and went into production in April. According to Wenzel, all development work is done on the servers and is then moved to the QA cluster for testing before being cleared for production. To date, the DeliveryWare implementation has reduced receipt-to-order entry time from 3.5 days to one day, according to Wenzel. Other benefits include the elimination of paper and the ability to do data entry by the application, which reduces time and the potential for errors and allows for a reduction in staff. The goal is to get the automated document processes down to hours and minutes and with less payroll impact. The second phase of the project addressed material price variants, and the ability to automatically handle exceptions and posting. "The benefits of this part of the project, such as the need for fewer order managers and enhanced processing speeds, is expected to further increase Whirlpools ROI," said Wenzel. The final project piece was POD (proof of delivery), which again leverages the product expertise of both IT partners. Outbound invoices from SAP print to the DeliveryWare application, find the original order, find the bill of lading and attach the documentation to the invoice, and the package gets sent to the customer, according to Wenzel. "The POD improves the cash collection process for Whirlpool," Wenzel said, adding that it makes payment easier and faster. Whirlpool will use DeliveryWare worldwide. "This is a great example of buying one application and applying it to many processes," said Wenzel. While Esker and Dolphin are driving the DeliveryWare implementation at Whirlpool, all three players have employees working on the project team. "One of our goals is [to] build a virtual team," said Murphy, adding that the goal has been met with project workers from Esker, Dolphin, Whirlpools IT department in Michigan and its remote developers in India. On-site, Esker and Dolphin staff provide training to Whirlpool employees. "Our goal is to become more self-sufficient," said Murphy. All project players expect to be working together for the long term, as Whirlpool has a long list of processes to automate. "All three parties are committed and engaged on this project," said Wenzel, noting the worldwide engagement and the need to integrate Maytag into Whirlpools SAP system. Lynn Haber is a freelance writer in Norwell, Mass. Contact her at lthaber@comcast.net. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.

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