CASE STUDY: National Food Distributor

COMPANY PROFILE

  • Industry Food & Beverage
  • Location Chicago, IL

Our client is a leading national distributor of ingredients for food and beverage manufacturers and suppliers, servicing thousands of customers from a nationwide network of warehouses and distribution facilities.

Since the late 1990s, they have sold ingredients and pre-packaged goods to a customer that produces and markets items to hundreds of stores across the country. Customer orders were managed through paper order forms and an Excel spreadsheet; however, as the customer’s business grew over the years, the ordering process became more labor intensive for both parties, resulting in numerous issues. For example:

  • The forms were only updated quarterly to reflect current inventory, resulting in the client ordering discontinued products.
  • Modifications to the spreadsheet blocked automatic import of the data into the client's systems, forcing our client's personnel to manually manipulate the data in order to load it into their ERP system.
  • Alerting the customer’s distribution centers of ordering deadlines was a laborious task, resulting in missed deliveries or scrambling to ensure orders arrived in time.

All of these factors generated a great deal of communication and manual workarounds to ensure customer satisfaction, resulting in long hours for their employees.

BUSINESS SITUATION

Our client saw an opportunity to modernize the ordering and distribution process by building a cloud-based customer portal for their customer’s distribution centers to be able to place orders over the internet. In addition, the client hoped a customer ordering portal project would serve as a successful pilot to demonstrate the value of creating a more encompassing, enterprise-level ordering portal for all of its customers.

Lacking the resources internally for the ordering portal project, they went in search of a technology partner and found that expertise in Strive Consulting (fka AIM Consulting LLC).

We needed a consulting partner to help us strategically navigate the options. AIM provided us with a great deal of insight and guided us every step of the way.

– Client E-Commerce Manager

STRIVE SOLUTION

Strive (fka AIM Consulting LLC) performed a thorough assessment of both the technology and business needs of its client and presented four possibilities for the portal solution:

  • Building and hosting a solution on the client's internal hardware
  • Setting up an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platform with cloud-based hardware and software to build and iterate on in a production-like environment
  • Using the client's CRM and extending it for ordering capabilities
  • Implementing a Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution

For each of these options, Strive (fka AIM Consulting LLC) gathered requirements and performed cost analysis as well as vendor analysis, presenting the findings in context of our client's specific needs and environment. The client ultimately went with Strive's (fka AIM Consulting LLC) recommendation to implement a PaaS/JavaScript solution utilizing Heroku as a platform. This solution had several benefits:

  • Minimal platform/infrastructure implementations and long-term cost savings of not having to hire internal personnel to maintain and upgrade the solution.
  • Extensibility and scalability of the PaaS platform. Heroku is extremely scalable to allow for additional customer load without any hardware upgrades so our client can safely plan for future expansion of the portal.
  • Developing a clean and simple UI that ties to the back-end with JavaScript is relatively painless to maintain as utilizing only one coding language reduces long term complexity and support needs.

Using agile development methodologies, Strive (fka AIM Consulting LLC) built the portal in just 15 weeks, including deriving functional specifications, the portal’s architectural design, visual design and UI, development, and QA. The solution is a full-stack JavaScript application with an AngularJS front-end. It is integrated with a PostgreSQL database and hosted on the Heroku platform. The solution meets the requirements of hosting around 3,000 active product SKUs and processing up to 350 daily orders from customer facilities, with the capability to scale up to approximately 4,000 users. It also features an intuitive UI designed for non-technical people to use.

HOW IT WORKS

Orders are created at the customer’s stores and roll up into master orders at the local distribution centers, where admins can view and manipulate the comprehensive data set for all orders. Local admins who oversee a large number of stores can input one set of store orders while awaiting orders from other stores. To eliminate confusion, the solution’s multi-tenant architecture allows different levels of users within each distribution center to view only the data pertaining to their orders. Regional admins can see multiple distribution centers. Once approved, designated admins can view all orders, make adjustments as necessary, and process them through the client's ERP system for distribution.

The portal required minimal enhancements to the existing systems of both our client, as well as, their clients and little technical knowledge to use. The only technology requirement for the client is a modern web browser the equivalent of Internet Explorer 9 or greater, with all other major browsers tested for compatibility. Our client has full autonomy to self-service the administration of the portal.

After the client rolled out the portal to its entire user base, two rounds of enhancements were made by Strive Consulting (fka AIM Consulting LLC), increasing ease of use and adding further capabilities. Our client maintains an ongoing relationship with Strive Consulting (fka AIM Consulting LLC) to support one-off requests, bug fixes, and provide maintenance as needed.

RESULT

Feedback on the portal has been universally stellar from our client as well as its client. Whereas the former paper-based order forms and Excel spreadsheet had to be manually updated quarterly, the portal contains real-time, up-to-the-minute data, providing far greater visibility to users as well as efficiency for our client. Discontinued items are automatically disabled in the portal so the customer can instantly see what products are no longer available.

The portal has bolstered the already positive relationship between our client and their customer with automation in the system eliminating the need for excess email and phone communication, resulting in more manageable hours for client employees overseeing the order and distribution process. More accurate and on-time ordering has also improved efficiency for buyers and other distribution personnel on the customer’s end.

Following the success of the customer ordering portal, the client chose to work with Strive (fka AIM Consulting LLC) on the development of the enterprise-wide ordering portal to serve its entire customer base. The project presents a tremendous opportunity for the client to modernize its ordering and distribution process, reduce workload and ultimately offer a better customer experience than competitors.

The basic goal of the portal development with Strive Consulting (fka AIM Consulting LLC) was to replace an inconsistent order entry process that was becoming more and more labor intensive as the customer grew. In addition, there were two strategic initiatives which fueled our client's investment in the customer portal project: 1) to differentiate us from our competition, and 2) to be the catalyst needed to expand portal development for our core business.

A year has passed since our go-live date and we are on track to achieve all of our goals. We are realizing great value from the initial portal and are now moving forward with a broader version to support our primary distribution business.

— Client Vice President – Executive Management