Profit Concepts is always looking for the next big thing. The Long Beach, Calif.-based integrator makes a healthy living building J.D. Edwards solutions. But in 1999, the company was hungry to try something new. Thats when Profit Concepts launched a CRM practice to cash in on the booming market for Siebel Systems applications.
Today, Profit Concepts and its CRM spin-off, known as Intesol, are solving cross-application business problems that many integrators simply cant address.
Just ask Polar Air Cargo, one of Profit Concepts most prized accounts. Founded in 1993, Polar Air rapidly grew by filling voids in the scheduled air cargo services that U.S. carriers offer to international destinations. Today, the companys 15 Boeing 747s link commerce centers in Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Americas.
Now, for the bad news. Because of an antiquated sales-tracking system, Polar Air often sold cargo space for pennies on the dollar. Much of the discounting involved eleventh-hour customer orders. Sometimes space was filled with discounted cargo when it could have been filled with higher-profit orders, says Scott Dolan, Polar Airs VP of quality.
Unfortunately, remote sales reps couldnt access a centralized Unisys VIS 1 air-bill tracking system at Polar Airs headquarters. Without real-time access to the tracking system, sales reps couldnt determine how close a customer was to meeting volume discount milestones, earlier volume commitments, and so on. Sales reps actually had to phone requests for customer histories to Polar Airs IT department and await faxed reports.
Integrating CRM and ERP
As these sales issues came to a head in early 2000, Polar Air also had to decide whether to upgrade its Great Plains Software license, due to expire in October 2000. Great Plains handled financials but not CRM or inventory management.
Dolan reached into his past to find an alternative solution. One option: He had strong ties to Siebel Systems dating from his time as a General Electric employee. It also helped that Siebel had a close partnership with ERP veteran J.D. Edwards & Co.
The real trick was finding a systems integrator that was intimately familiar with Siebel and J.D. Edwards to help Polar Air completely redesign its sales process. Enter Intesol Corp. and Profit Concepts International, which ultimately overhauled Polar Airs antiquated sales-tracking system.
Four factors drove Polar Airs decision to embrace Intesol and Profit Concepts: economics, application experience, personalized service and location. Dolan says Intesol and Profit Concepts offered a very good price and access to top executives (unlike some Big Five firms, he notes). Moreover, both integrators are located next door to Polar Airs offices.
Profit Concepts has been a J.D. Edwards partner since 1992. We were one of the first JDE resellers, crows Profit Concepts business development VP Steven Colgrove.
Intesol was formed in 1999, when Profit Concepts decided to enter the CRM market. “Rather than dilute our consultants in-depth expertise by requiring them to learn additional disciplines, we created a separate affiliate specializing in CRM,” explains Colgrove.
“We evaluated several CRM packages,” says Soren Eilersten, Intesols COO and general manager, “and Siebel was the clear functionality leader.”
When J.D. Edwards and Siebel partnered in 1999, Intesol and Profit Concepts knew they had bet on the right software combination.
Still, mastering the CRM market isnt easy. By some estimates, half of CRM projects fail because integrators and customers dont properly outline the projects scope. Plus, many vendors, such as Oracle and PeopleSoft, often compete with integrators for CRM consulting dollars.
Further complicating matters, some CRM companies are beginning to feel the effects of the economic slowdown. Onyx Software of Bellevue, Wash., for one, badly missed Q1 earnings expectations. The company is slated to announce Q2 results tomorrow.
Instead of worrying about macroeconomic conditions, Intesol and Profit Concepts focused on their customer, Polar Air. “Understanding the nuances of [Polar Airs] business was the biggest challenge,” says Colgrove.
The integrators started to evaluate Polar Airs software needs in June 2000. Executives from both Intesol and Profit Concepts met one to two days per week with Polar Air executives to generate a blueprint for Polar Airs new sales process. This “discovery” cycle took roughly 10 weeks but could have been shorter had it not been for scheduling conflicts, notes Dolan. “Getting Polar Airs [executives] together with Steve and Soren took up a lot of that time.”
The result included about 20 priorities for the sales system. The top three required the system to track sales activity history, a way to hold sales reps accountable for meeting revenue targets and activity levels, and a master account list that could be prioritized.
The ability to download customer account information to sales reps laptop PCs was crucial, and the Siebel Sales system includes that feature.
Intesol began installing and customizing Siebel on Sept. 1, 2000, and finished within a few weeks. The Siebel Sales system, installed on a Dell PowerEdge 6400 server with four 550-MHz processors, includes modules that offer contact and activity management, forecasting, opportunity and pipeline management, field-level and executive-level report generation, correspondence generation, and e-mail integration.
Simultaneously, Colgrove and the Profit Concepts team installed several J.D. Edwards Financials modules on an IBM Netfinity 4500R server. The modules included Address Book, Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, General Accounting and Financial Reporting.
Then the fun really began.
Pasting Front to Back
Naturally, the customer-facing Siebel Sales system had to integrate with the back-office J.D. Edwards Financials system. For example, customer contact records generated by the sales force had to flow from Siebel into J.D. Edwards Address Book. Similarly, data from invoices generated by J.D. Edwards had to flow to Siebels account activity modules.
Enter J.D. Edwards XPIe software. This suite of tools helps developers map data elements from one system to their corresponding elements in another system. In this case, the tools acted as a translator between the Siebel and J.D. Edwards systems.
Still, XPIe isnt perfect. For example, inventory items from J.D. Edwards can be loaded into Siebel as products, but XPIe cant transfer Siebel products into J.D. Edwards inventory items.
“One issue was the newness of [XPIe],” admits Eilersten. “We had to install parts of it in a particular order and consider each parts effect on others. We had help from JDE and Siebel on that.”
On the upside, XPIe enables the J.D. Edwards applications to pull air-bill data from the Unisys system. As a result, Polar Air can generate integrated invoices and reports. Intesol wrote a custom interface between the Unisys system and Siebel so that sales reps can access the status of customers shipments in real time.
The new system was put to the test in October 2000, at Polar Airs Los Angeles office. Polar Airs New York location followed in November, and by March 2001, all offices were online.
“The technology was solid,” reports Dolan. “We had some glitches with laptop and server synchronization, but Intesol took care of it.
“From a process standpoint, Polar Air learned several lessons,” Dolan continues. “First, there were some usability problems despite the basic computer literacy classes provided to the sales team.”
Second, Polar Air didnt realize at the outset how much time it would take to input data into the new systems. “We originally asked [reps to track] 20 items per day,” Dolan says. That figure ultimately was cut to six critical sales metrics: appointments, new and old business contacts, telephone sales activity, and time spent generating reports and customer service issues.
Formally defining and measuring sales activity items uncovered some differences between managements and the sales forces assumptions.
“Some [reps] thought that new business meant only new customers, not new markets or deals within existing customers.” Correcting that misconception helped focus reps attention on developing new relationships within existing accounts.
Activity reports also revealed that reps were spending 50 percent of their time on reports and customer service issues, not the 20 percent that management had assumed. “It turned out that customers really liked to talk to someone local, so we decentralized customer service to field offices,” says Dolan, freeing sales reps to work on revenue-generating activities.
Dolan has high hopes for the near future, too. “We hope to get Siebel to be the foundation of a major cultural change,” he says, projecting a $6 million return on investment during the projects first year.
Thats a healthy return in any market.