A latecomer to e-commerce, writing instruments giant Sanford Corp. decided to connect with customers, suppliers and employees via the Web in early 2001. Three months later, the maker of Parker, Waterman, Paper Mate and other famous calligraphic brands had four sophisticated e-business portals, thanks to solution provider Centrifusion Corp.
"Sanfords president, Paul Donahue, recognized the value of e-business," says Damani Short, Sanfords manager of e-business. "He wanted to drive efficiencies inside the business and increase Sanfords value to its stakeholders."
And Donahue wanted to do so in a hurry. The project had a "hard launch" date of June 1. Much of the project remained in beta test as of this writing. This article explores the early project planning and deployment phases. Smart Partner will publish a follow-up article early next year that examines the projects overall return on investment.
Sanford kicked off the project with 12 weeks of strategy meetings involving roughly 15 company executives. Sanford, a division of Newell Rubbermaid, consists of many writing instruments and art supplies groups, including several recent acquisitions (in 2000 alone: Paper Mate, Parker, Waterman and Liquid Paper). Much time was needed to get a handle on Sanfords 3,000-plus products, the many databases in which relevant data was stored, and the people who would be part of Sanfords e-business initiatives.
The assessment led to the four-portal approach: large customers (i. e., retailers like Wal-Mart and B2B distributors such as Office Depot); individual consumers; Sanfords suppliers; and Sanfords own employees.
All of the portals would need to tie into a consolidated product catalog. Several AS/400s running Oracle databases contained Sanfords product and pricing data. However, the data formats were not suitable for presentation via the Web. For example, internal SKU numbers did not lend themselves to hierarchical product categories that Web users take for granted.
Sanford selected ATG Dynamo, from Art Technology Group (www.atg.com), as its enterprise-wide Web platform. Dynamos Java-based architecture and rich personalization features were decisive factors, according to Short. Dynamos scalability will be important in the future, as Sanfords e-commerce model is rolled out to other Newell Rubbermaid divisions.
Next, Sanford went looking for a solution provider. Short says the firm rejected tier-one players, including Arthur Andersen and Braun Consulting, in search of "an aggressive, lean, cost-effective partner, with experience in our industry and our chosen platform."
Centrifusion certainly fits that bill. Founded in 1993, the small consulting firm has grown rapidly in the past two years. Year-over-year revenue rose 58 percent to $11.3 million in 2000, and another 44 percent in the first half of 2001. While other e-business consultants tightened their belts, Centrifusion opened a Minneapolis office and increased its staff by 70 percent to 125 employees.
Centrifusions experience in the consumer-products sector also was appealing to Sanford. The consulting firms clients include Target, Walgreens, Musicland and chewing-gum icon The William Wrigley, Jr., Co.
Perhaps most importantly, Centrifusion literally wrote the book on ATG Dynamo expertise; in this case the consulting firm authored the courseware for Dynamo Version 5. Centrifusion also hosts StartDynamo.com, an active online community for Dynamo developers.
Sanford selected Centrifusion in March, 2001. Facing the firm June 1 launch date, both parties shifted into high gear.
The discovery phase took five weeks, plus about a week to finalize the plan, says Centrifusions director of project management, Doug Wilkerson.
While Centrifusion business analysts and Sanford executives hammered out the high-level vision and scope elements, Centrifusion developers trained Sanfords programmers in Java and other techniques they would need to help develop and maintain the Dynamo system. Other Centrifusion staffers met with Sanford customers, suppliers and employees to discover their requirements.
After the discovery phase, 10 Centrifusion developers and two system architects teamed with eight Sanford developers to build the portals. "First, we built the back-end connections between Dynamo and Oracle to retrieve production information and insert order information," recalls Jim Garst, project manager for Centrifusion. "Sanford had many isolated databases scattered throughout its system of AS/400s."
Next, the team split into four groups to simultaneously develop the consumer, customer, supplier and employee portals.
The Employee Connection portal allows employees to search for products by name, keyword, SKU number or pre-defined categories. It also allows the field sales staff to request products, customer histories and order status.
The Supplier Connection gives suppliers a look into Sanfords manufacturing schedules at various plants. A forecast planning application helps suppliers plan their manufacturing schedules over variable periods. Purchase order histories can also be viewed.
The Customer Connection provides real-time order entry and status, and product information to retail, office supply and corporate customers. Finally, the Consumer portal (www.sanfordcorp.com) offers product information, company news and a database of Sanford retailers.
One of the bigger challenges was converting the Oracle data to Dynamos database for Web access, says Jim Hurley, who managed the project with Garst.
Late in May, 2001, about half of Centrifusions staff tested the sites in one weekend, says Garst. That marathon session caught small bugs that could have become big embarrassments, i. e., a single misplaced character in the consumer sites code that rendered the site inaccessible to Netscape browsers.
As of press time, six business partners are using the customer portal, while the supplier and employee portals remain in the beta stage. Sanford also is adding Interwovens content management system to the mix.
Smart Partner will revisit Sanford in early 2002 to determine how each portal is performing.