Plugged into Customers’ Needs

Feature Article | October 27, 2008 by Christoph Zeidler, SAP AG

Gewinner

Huge racks reaching from floor to ceiling surround me. Busy employees in forklifts and carts whirr in between, transporting boxes, conduit, and pallets from shelf to shipping. Each time they remove or store a package, they scan the bar code with a small reader. I am standing in one of the many warehouses of Border States, an electrical distributor with corporate headquarters in the peaceful town of Fargo, North Dakota, and I am impressed that everything appears to run like clockwork.

Customer focus and service

Next to me is Michelle Perius, manager of IT applications at Border States, who explains what is going on around me. From the arrival and storage of the goods to their delivery to the customer, every employee is a vital link in the chain. This chain is mapped in the SAP software, enabling everyone to know where everything is located. “SAP is a great help to us,” says Perius, “because we can deliver to customers quickly when we know where material is located.” Service is not just an empty word at Border States.

ASUG Impact Awards 2008

The Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG) created these awards to recognize the achievements of members that have realized significant business results by running SAP solutions. Submissions are evaluated on demonstrated success in the following areas: return on investment generated, strategic alignment to goals met, SAP product scope used, best practices developed, service improvements demonstrated, and degree of innovation reflected in the approach. This year, ASUG gave out Impact Awards in the following categories: large enterprise, small to midsize enterprise, and public sector.

Competition is tough in the wholesale industry, so customer focus is a must – and an important way of standing out from the competition. “We’re proud of our customer service,” she adds. Customer service was one of the reasons for deploying SAP software, which Border States has been running since 1998. Perius and her team have shaped the system to focus on the customer. Today, the company uses the additional functionality of the SAP NetWeaver technology platform and the Internet sales application.

The SAP NetWeaver Master Data Management (SAP NetWeaver MDM) component provides the foundation for the product catalog, which Border States prepares for its Web site using the SAP NetWeaver Portal component and the Internet sales application. On the Web site, customers can check the availability of individual products, place orders, track orders, and print invoices. The software automatically generates the delivery ticket and invoice. “The great thing about SAP NetWeaver MDM is it provides role-based access to customer-specific catalogs,” says Perius.

Flexibility is vital

We leave the warehouse and enter the city desk, where several customers are placing their orders and signing for them on small signature capture devices. “The signature is entered directly into our SAP ERP system and stored there,” explains Perius. “The customer’s account is debited, and the customer receives a packing slip with his or her signature.” A similar process takes place when goods are delivered to customers, the most frequent scenario. All signatures captured will be displayed on the customer invoice for proof of delivery.

Border States serves the construction, industrial, utility, and data communications markets. Its customers submit their orders online or through the inside sales process. Orders can be delivered to the customer’s office or warehouse or go straight to the construction site. Fast delivery times, changes to order quantities, and special requests are no problem. “SAP gives us the flexibility we need to fulfill customers’ special requests,” says Perius. If customers request minor changes to orders, it is now much easier to implement them.

Perius also sees these benefits:

  • Improved warehouse management
  • Optimized e-catalog and print catalog
  • Stronger customer focus to meet changing customer requirements

Experience and expertise

SAP Solutions Implemented

SAP R/3 Enterprise
SAP Interactive Forms by Adobe
SAP NetWeaver Master Data Management
SAP NetWeaver Mobile
SAP NetWeaver Process Integration
SAP NetWeaver Portal
SAP Solution Manager
Internet sales application in SAP CRM
SAP Incentive Administration
SAP Paybacks and Chargebacks by Vistex

Michelle Perius and her team have gained a great deal of experience and in-house expertise. “That really helped us during acquisitions and other projects,” she says. Border States also benefits from support from ASUG – especially the wholesale special interest group, which the company helped establish. “It enables us to share experiences and join with our industry peers to specifically influence SAP’s product portfolio.”

As we make our way outside, I ask her what she might change. “We’re very satisfied with SAP,” Perius says, smiling. “Of course, with any application, there are problematic things from time to time,” she adds. “Nonetheless, SAP has provided the foundation for our growth and has been a considerable factor in our success.” The planned upgrade to the SAP ERP 6.0 application will ensure that this continues in the future.

Border States

Founded in 1952, Border States Industries, Inc. is a 100-percent employee-owned wholesale distributor with headquarters in Fargo, North Dakota, and 50 branches throughout the United States and Mexico. With a sales volume of over U.S.$850 million and an inventory value of U.S.$120 million, Border States is the 10th largest independent electrical distributor in the United States. The company offers an extensive range of products and services, including electrical supplies for commercial and residential construction and maintenance; data communications and networking; industrial automation and control products; industrial supplies for maintenance, repair, operating, and production; electric and gas utility products; and plumbing.

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