Simple principles sometimes lead to major challenges. For example, while it makes sense to say that all decision-makers in a company need to be able to access important information immediately in order to perform their tasks successfully, it is often not easy to put this requirement into practice. What is an international company to do when it has data in numerous applications and stand-alone solutions, in different languages and fonts? A heterogeneous infrastructure such as this makes it difficult to determine how sales are developing in Asia, or where customer potential still remains unexploited in Russia, for example.
VEKA AG, a leading manufacturer of plastic profiles for windows, doors, and shutters, was an enterprise facing precisely this challenge. The company has 33 subsidiaries across the world, all of which work with very different applications. At the company headquarters in Sendenhorst, Germany, the manufacturer has been using SAP solutions since 1988 to support its key business processes. VEKA was faced with the question of how system barriers that had arisen as a result of ongoing expansion could be overcome, and how external sales staff could be supported more effectively by being provided with more rapid access to the relevant information.
With the help of SAP NetWeaver and Blackberry devices as milestones, the enterprise has now found a way to provide standardized data to its employees, regardless of where they are located.
Complex reports at the touch of a button
VEKA worked towards its goal in a number of steps. First, the enterprise needed to create a flexible IT infrastructure and thus integrate the different systems. In 2004, VEKA therefore implemented SAP NetWeaver, merged the numerous applications of the international companies using the open technology platform, and connected them up to the central computer center in Germany.
The enterprise now has a standardized reporting system and an end-to-end flow of information. All the data can be exchanged across the whole enterprise without integration gaps. Even complex reports and statistics are immediately available, and as a result, management, sales, and customer support staff always have the most up-to-date information. On the basis of this, business processes can be adapted in line with new market developments.
In addition, SAP NetWeaver ensures harmonized master data and standardized processes and functions within the whole group and for collaboration with external companies. In this way, the platform forms the basis for the international manufacturing network.
Blackberry gives data a helping hand
In step two, the data standardized across the enterprise was VEKA’s starting point for providing better support for sales activities. The company wanted employees at different levels in the hierarchy to be able to call up information easily, regardless of their location. For example, senior managers always need access to success-relevant facts such as current sales figures, at all times and all locations, while customer advisors primarily need master data and order data while they are visiting customers. One particular requirement was that the external sales staff at the Russian subsidiary, who are responsible for huge sales territories, were to be supplied with all the key customer information via mobile access.
These demands were met by a combination of SAP NetWeaver Portal, mySAP Customer Relationship Management (mySAP CRM), and the mobile Blackberry devices. In 2005, VEKA launched the project together with the SAP consulting firm UNIORG. To connect the mobile solution to the technology platform, the project team made use of the SAP NetWeaver application server. All the required applications could be integrated with the help of the solution component, which supports web services, business applications, and standard-based development work. One particular challenge was to integrate a wide variety of different systems and map appropriate scenarios for the sales processes, to give employees access to statistics and master data from mySAP CRM via the portal to enable them to prepare for customer visits.
Language barriers overcome
First, the project team connected the Russian sales companies to mySAP Customer Relationship Management (mySAP CRM), which meant overcoming a language barrier, because the Russian clients use Cyrillic characters and needed to be able to communicate smoothly with the systems in the German computer center. This was overcome thanks to the Unicode enablement of mySAP CRM and SAP NetWeaver Portal. Russian employees now access mySAP CRM functionalities – such as Account Management – from their PCs via SAP NetWeaver. All the data and applications that they need for their sales activities are available on a role basis via single sign-on.
The times when Russian external salespeople called up customer data from the national head office by telephone are long gone – today, they access all important information and their emails on their Blackberry devices from Lotus Notes using SAP NetWeaver Portal. Similarly, they maintain the master data directly in the portal. The external sales employees previously faxed or telephoned the information to an employee in the head office, who maintained the data in the system. Data access and maintenance via the internet saves VEKA time and money, and ensures higher-quality data, because the risk of transmission is significantly reduced. Thanks to the positive experiences gained in Russia, the company is now planning to connect the external sales teams in other countries to mySAP CRM via Blackberry devices and SAP NetWeaver. By 2007, the company plans to more than double the number of users – currently standing at 25.
The latest key figures always to hand
The Blackberry/SAP NetWeaver combination has also proven successful for company executives, as senior managers are on the road a great deal, but must always be able to find out how sales are developing, and be aware of the company’s situation. The mobile solution enables them to access information from SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence (SAP NetWeaver BI) via web services, so that they always have the most up-to-date key figures to hand. A link on their Blackberry connects them directly to the VEKA intranet, where they can use their password to call up statistics and reports, which can be broken down to individual subsidiary level. Managers need neither a cell phone nor a laptop to be up to the minute, and access to key data is much easier than before.
Customer advisors in Germany are now also armed with Blackberry devices and use them to access facts and figures from SAP Business One while they are away on business. VEKA has implemented a customer-specific web service in the solution, namely a current list of telephone numbers, so that external sales staff have their colleagues’ numbers and can call them from their Blackberry.
The mobile solution is so popular among employees that warehouse managers even asked for – and were given – a similar application. At the weekend, warehouse managers now access the status of truck consignments and can see exactly which stocks they need to retain and when. The SAP NetWeaver Application Server therefore supports all sales processes – from initial contact with the customer right through to deliveries and sales analyses.
VEKA executed the complete project in 11 months – within budget and schedule. On balance, the response was positive, and the company is now able to evaluate data and information more quickly than before. The time required for processes – particularly in Account Management at the Russian subsidiary – has been reduced from days to minutes, and it’s no longer possible to imagine life at the company without the mobile solution.
VEKA is already planning further projects. Among other things, consumers are to be given the option of searching on the internet for the manufacturer’s trade customers, for example window specialist suppliers in their neighborhood. A prototype of this solution is already being tested at VEKA. The long-term aim is to gradually achieve an Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA) with the help of SAP NetWeaver in order to map business processes flexibly and reduce the time to market.