While its products are based on silicone, Dow Corning moves lots of paper. The chemical giant maintains more than 5,000 pieces of printed literature, from business cards and corporate brochures to product spec sheets and order forms. Many of these printed assets are distributed in several languages.
Historically, Dow Corning used several printing contractors scattered around the globe and stocked printed assets in strategically placed warehouses. But this decentralized procurement system was inherently inefficient. Gradually, the company trimmed its supplier list to realize economies of scale. But other problems persisted.
Version control was “a huge problem,” according to Anne Wisniewski, Dow Cornings manager of communications systems supply-chain delivery. Employees around the world did not always have the same spec sheets, contracts, order forms, etc. Up to 25 percent of printed assets stocked in warehouses had to be thrown away when new versions replaced old copies.
“We needed a digital archiving system, something that we could take global, something scalable,” Wisniewski says. All they had as the millennium neared was “a mainframe-based legacy system that wed developed in-house and Band-Aided over the years. It only covered North America and was not Web-enabled.”
The old system was also not Y2K-compliant, so late 1999 seemed like an excellent time to scrap it in favor of a modern, Web-based document management and procurement system.
Where to start? The F.P. Horak company (www.fphorak.com), Dow Cornings North American printer, referred Dow Corning to Collabria Inc., an ASP that specializes in procurement applications or enterprisewide printing and graphic communications materials.
Vertical Success Collabria was founded in 1997 by Alan Hu—a veteran of IBM, Sun and WebLogic—and his brother Robert, who has logged more than 20 years in commercial printing.
Between them, the brothers had an intimate knowledge of the printing industrys inefficiencies and how the Internet could reduce those.
In 2000, when many ASPs were struggling to find their markets, Collabria managed to double its customer base to more than 1,000 companies.
“We learned that nine out of 10 corporations have the same problems,” says John Ashbaugh, Collabrias strategic marketing VP. “Content management is just a piece of what needs to get done. You also need to define and develop the business process.”
In a typical enterprise, print procurement and management functions are spread over multiple departments, each of which has its own way of doing things. Consequently, administrative, inventory and workflow costs run 5 percent 8 percent of printing costs, according to Ashbaugh. Collabrias PrintCommerce modular ASP services standardize and streamline that inefficient process.
Collabrias Custom Catalog module provides access to a central repository of an enterprises printed assets. In Dow Cornings case, all documents are kept in the Documentum format in an Oracle database that resides inside Dow Cornings intranet.
Some documents contain variable data elements that can be modified by authorized users who access documents via a Web browser. A sales rep can correct the spelling of his name on his business card, for example, but cannot modify the corporate logo.
Workflow management is equally Web-efficient. A printer can collaborate with Dow Cornings design team on a brochure in real time using Collabrias Online Proofing module. Materials can be routed to various persons for approval according to customized business rules. When an order is placed with a printer (online, of course), Collabria collects a maximum of $50 per transaction, regardless of the orders size. Order tracking, reporting and billing are enabled by other modules.
For printers, Collabria offers production management, pre-press automation, job scheduling, and customer billing and reporting modules. These services help printers be more responsive to customers and eliminate much costly administrative friction.
Three-Stage Launch “We wanted to roll out Collabrias services in stages,” says Wisniewski, in order to smooth out any wrinkles without disrupting worldwide operations. They began with Dow Cornings U.S. offices, which all get their print assets from F.P. Horak.
The first stage was the consolidation of documents in a Collabria catalog and conversion of Dow Cornings domestic warehouses to the Collabria procurement process. Some minor problems inevitably popped up.
“Half of our people used Internet Explorer 5.0 and the rest were on 5.5. We found that IE 5.0 couldnt handle [the] shopping cart,” says Wisniewski. That glitch was easily solved by upgrading older browsers.
Dow Cornings IT managers also had to tweak the companys firewall so employees could get out to Collabrias site and the Collabria apps could access the image repository inside Dow Cornings intranet. After the warehouse ordering process was ironed out, the system was opened up to domestic end users, such as sales reps and potential customers, who wanted to order their own documents as needed.
Collabrias Ashbaugh says, “Our biggest challenge was the tens of thousands of users coming into the system via AOL, other ISPs, T1 and the intranet. There was no opportunity to train every one of them, so we had to design a system that would be intuitive and fast enough for a variety of users.”
The final rollout involved replicating Collabrias user interfaces and Dow Cornings image repository in multiple languages, changing location-relevant data in many documents, and adapting the system to work with foreign printers.
Fast, Cost-Effective Customer Service Each phase of the rollout took only two to four weeks, punctuated by testing and debugging periods. The system went live in January 2001, just three months after the project began.
“Customer service and salespeople love it,” says Wisniewski. “Theyre getting exactly what theyre supposed to, and can deliver it any way they want to,” via e-mail, fax or snail mail.
The Collabria system is also saving money. “Weve been able to shut down other procurement systems worldwide, realize productivity savings on search and delivery times, and shave up to 25 percent off warehousing and waste costs,” says Wisniewski.
“But the biggest reason to do all of this was customer service,” she adds. Dow Cornings customers now get the information and products they need faster and more reliably.
Collabria found the secret of succeeding in the ASP business: Do one thing, do it right, and do it thoroughly. Also, they dont pretend to be a “B2B market maker” for print buyers and sellers. They specialize in improving existing relationships between printers and their customers. This paradigm enables customers to save money based on printers cost savings rather than competitive price-cutting among multiple vendors.