Employees and trading partners regularly bombarded Phil Catlin, Application Development Manager at Formica Group, with questions about their new electronic data interchange (EDI) implementations and existing connections. They reached out to him through the company help desk, emails and phone calls.
“There’s plenty of them, and only one of me. I didn’t have enough extensions on my phone when they all started calling,” he recalls.
The reason? Formica Group had originally and successfully outsourced its B2B transaction management to an information management solution provider that was subsequently acquired by another vendor. The new provider’s service notably deteriorated, leaving Catlin without proactive, reliable support. Instead, he spent excessive time following up on business users’ requests for system assistance.
The company’s downstream trade network comprises fabricators, distributors and major home improvement retailers on every continent. The network has expanded with the business, which started with the invention of high-pressure laminate in 1913. Over more than a century, the company has grown through surfacing innovation and acquisition. Today, Formica Group designs, manufactures and distributes multiple surfacing materials for residential and commercial spaces, including high-pressure laminate, solid surfacing, and decorative wall panels.
Catlin oversees Formica Group’s global e-commerce and EDI systems from the company’s US headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. Given the provider’s poor service, he struggled to maintain agile, responsive and cost-efficient supply chain operations.
Boosted business-to-business (B2B) transaction volumes ~40% daily
Reduced onboarding for new trading partners from up to 8 months to < 2 weeks
Whenever partners contacted Formica Group with queries or concerns, nontechnical line-of-business (LOB) teams, such as in accounts receivable and customer service, couldn’t rapidly retrieve pertinent documents themselves. Instead, they turned to Catlin to track them down.
Perhaps most important, partners couldn’t be quickly onboarded into the system. “We had a couple of significantly delayed onboarding implementations. I’m talking projects that dragged on eight months or longer,” he says. “We actually lost sales because our outsourced provider couldn’t come on board with customers in a timely fashion.”
In addition, the provider stopped enhancing the solution, which lacked AI-driven search and other functions. The solution also couldn’t adequately support the complex logistics of international trade.
“The acquisition left us with a backwater product,” comments Catlin.
With frustrations increasing across the organization, Catlin issued a request for proposal to learn about other vendors’ supply chain network solutions. “I was pleased and surprised that IBM came in very competitively with offerings that featured much cleaner, easier-to-navigate online tools than those of our previous vendor’s. Even nontechnical businesspeople could use and benefit from them,” says Catlin.
“IBM also brought global reach to the table,” he adds. “That was hugely important to us.”
Formica Group selected IBM Sterling® Supply Chain Business Network Premium managed services, which provide security-rich, cloud-based connectivity across trading networks with personalized support. The offering includes the Business Transaction Intelligence feature, which empowers business users with real-time insights, deeper visibility and discrepancy alerts. By capitalizing on AI, their business can facilitate faster and better decision-making to help mitigate supply chain disruptions.
Within six months of the contract signing, Formica Group went live with the service. Catlin worked with IBM to accommodate more than 80 data formats and integrate ERP and other back-end systems running on Formica Group’s private cloud infrastructure.
“We had a great implementation team from IBM; I really can’t say enough nice things about those folks. How many projects can you truthfully say come in on time, on budget and to the original scope? And we did it with no disruption to our business,” says Catlin.
With Supply Chain Business Network Premium services, the IBM project executive coordinates the efforts of communications, mapping, testing and other Supply Chain Business Network teams that are involved in bringing new B2B partners onboard, freeing Catlin from micromanaging global onboarding integrations. He and his colleagues also have more time to better serve existing partners and foster relationships with new ones. He also plans to take advantage of IBM’s global scalability and support to integrate Formica Group’s worldwide suppliers into the system.
In addition, with the Business Transaction Intelligence feature, Formica Group business users can access a user-friendly, self-service portal that lets them view B2B transactions across the order to delivery lifecycle. “They are really pleased that they can use natural language searches and can actually find the information they’re looking for,” comments Catlin.
With greater network visibility, accounts receivable, customer service and other LOB teams can also work more fluidly with each other and trading partners. “For instance, if a customer calls to ask about the status of their purchase order, the rep can log in to the portal, see if the order has arrived, and if it has, what time it was transmitted and where it is,” explains Catlin. “That wasn’t possible before, and now it’s routine.”
Using the IBM Sterling™ solution, Formica Group reduced the onboarding period for new partners from up to eight months to fewer than two weeks, depending on the complexities involved. Given these and other new efficiencies, Catlin added six new partners to the company’s network within seven months of going live with the IBM Sterling solution. He is in the process of adding six more.
The company can also process EDI transactions faster and with fewer errors, helping ensure on-time deliveries and higher satisfaction among partners. Without requiring new hires, the business increased daily transactions by nearly 40%, from 1,800 to 2,500 documents, a number that continues to grow. At the same time, volumes of service calls and internal help desk tickets decreased.
Further, Formica Group can achieve ROI within two years and savings of 63% in support costs over five years. It’s money the company can reinvest in the business. “Making the move to IBM was really a no-brainer; it was truly one of the easier decisions we’ve made,” says Catlin.
Finally, by engaging with IBM, Catlin can benefit from continual innovations in the platform. “It gives me a good feeling to know that I’m on a supported core product that is being enhanced and developed and has mindshare with our management,” he says. “I’m confident that as technology moves forward, we’ll be able to move forward with it.”
Formica GroupExternal Link is a leading provider of branded, designed surfacing solutions for commercial and residential customers worldwide. Focused on quality, service and innovation, the enterprise seeks to make its products accessible to all. With approximately 3,300 employees, Formica Group is a division of Broadview Holding, a Netherlands-based industrial holding.
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