A hybrid approach to connecting with customers made easy
Hendrickson fuels real-time transactions with new B2B API gateway
Truck with translucent exterior and Hendrickson suspensions and components shown in red

As a leading global manufacturer and supplier of medium- and heavy-duty truck and trailer suspension systems, Hendrickson USA knows customers depend on its ability to deliver.

So when Hendrickson’s largest truck manufacturing customer mandated that its major suppliers provide real-time application programming interface (API) capabilities, it wasn’t a question of whether Hendrickson would comply, but how.

The request wasn’t completely surprising. The move to using APIs to transact with B2B partners and customers is part of a growing cross-industry trend. In 2015, 85% of supply chain transactions were managed through electronic data interfaces (EDIs). In contrast, Gartner predicts that by 2023, more than 50% of transactions will be conducted through APIs.

Currently, Hendrickson uses EDI for approximately 70% of its transactions connecting its customers to its cloud-based ERP system for the purposes of order entry, tracking and invoicing. While EDI has greatly reduced the need for manual processes and has increased efficiencies for Hendrickson and its customers, APIs offer distinct advantages that Hendrickson’s largest customer wanted to take advantage of—chiefly, the ability to conduct real-time transactions.

Multiple facilities

 

Implemented the B2B API gateway capability for a key customer across 13 Hendrickson facilities

Real-time insights

 

Notified Hendrickson of ASN errors in real time for fast resolution and 100% ASN availability in customer system

As a manufacturing company, we don’t have the IT expertise to match the volume we’re expecting. When we have new customers in the future, we can hand it over to IBM to do the mapping on our behalf to meet the customer’s requirement for a particular ASN. Senthil Kannan IT Manager, Demand and Distribution Applications Hendrickson USA

One of the limitations of EDI transactions is that once a supplier sends an Advance Shipping Notification (ASN) to a customer, there isn’t a foolproof way to know that the customer’s system received it. An ASN is a document that notifies customers of a pending delivery, including physical characteristics of the shipment and delivery times, so the customer can prepare to accept it.

The consequences of a failed ASN transaction can be costly. “If a truck arrives and the ASN is not there, the supplier must do a manual reset of the entire truckload of components,” says Senthil Kannan, IT Manager, Demand and Distribution Applications for Hendrickson. “To avoid that, our customer wanted real-time confirmation that when Hendrickson submitted an ASN, they would be able to detect any errors and fix them immediately. So before the truck goes to the customer’s docking station, there’s confirmation that ASN is in the customer’s system.”

IBM’s hybrid approach to transactions

Initially, Hendrickson considered developing an in-house API solution. But it quickly became apparent that the requisite scale and staffing would make it unfeasible to do so. Fortunately, when Hendrickson had migrated to a cloud-based ERP system a decade prior, it had adopted the IBM Sterling® Supply Chain Business Network Premium solution, a managed service, to connect the system to its customers, trading partners and employees. The IBM Sterling™ platform acts as a translator between various customers’ transaction formats.

The platform has received high marks from the Hendrickson employees in the years since it was initially installed. “The Hendrickson EDI team has always been very enthusiastic about IBM and the IBM Sterling Supply Chain for Business Network Premium solution,” says Kannan.

It just so happened that IBM was already preparing to roll out an add-on B2B API gateway capability for its Sterling solution—and it was just what Hendrickson needed to fulfill its truck manufacturing customer’s request. The capability extends the types of transactions IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Network can handle to include not only API and EDI transactions, but also hybrid transactions converting existing EDI flows into API flows—all within a single business network. Keeping all transactions on the same network can reduce operational disruptions and incident response times, enhance data visibility and strengthen security.

From Hendrickson’s perspective, the implementation was seamless. As a managed service, the IBM Sterling solution includes an IBM project leader and IBM support team. “It was a phased approach. We gave the requirements, and IBM came back with the design,” says Kannan. “We had a weekly cadence call during which IBM would explain to us what they were planning to do. We would give feedback, and they would hear us and adjust the design. We attended meetings, understood the design and did some testing. But everything else was taken care of by IBM.”

Ultimately, the IBM team implemented the solution across the 13 Hendrickson facilities that supplied components to the truck manufacturing customer. Not only did the team meet Hendrickson’s customer’s deadline—it beat it. Both Hendrickson and its largest customer were more than satisfied with the results.

We have a great relationship with IBM. The moment we have an issue, we pick up the phone and call. The IBM team resolves the problem for us rapidly and at a reasonable cost. Senthil Kannan IT Manager, Demand and Distribution Applications Hendrickson USA
Scaling for the future

Today, Hendrickson submits an ASN to the truck manufacturing customer’s system and receives real-time confirmation that the ASN has loaded or has failed to load in the customer’s system, all during a single API call. Hendrickson can then resolve errors immediately, so that the ASN is available 100% of the time in the customer’s system when the shipment reaches the customer’s docking station. The ability to detect and eliminate errors saves both the customer and Hendrickson time and money. The customer is now looking at adding the API capability to other processes, beginning with its order processes.

Hendrickson employees are also happy with the B2B API gateway capability. If Hendrickson’s customer has other suppliers that are unable to convert to API connections, they must enter ASNs through the customer’s portal. Occasionally Hendrickson employees get emails prompting them to do so. According to Kannan: “We can tell them, ‘We’ve got this—you don’t have to do it because we are already compliant.’ They are always surprised and appreciative.”

With the hybrid translation capabilities provided by the IBM Sterling solution, the mapping process is seamless for Hendrickson. “We don’t have to change our ERP system at all. All the changes are managed by IBM,” says Kannan. “Once IBM receives a file that needs to be handled in a specific format, they create that capability. It’s all behind the scenes for us.”

The scalability of the B2B API gateway is a major benefit as well. In the near future, Hendrickson expects its current customer to request additional API capabilities that extend beyond ASNs and for other customers to begin requiring API mappings unique to their IT environments. “We don’t know when, but we imagine there are going to be many similar projects in the future,” says Kannan. “It’s one of the reasons we went with IBM rather than developing something internally. As a manufacturing company, we don’t have the IT expertise to match the volume we’re expecting. When we have new customers, we can hand them over to IBM to do the mapping to meet the customer’s requirements.”

“We have a great relationship with IBM,” he continues. “The moment we have an issue, we pick up the phone and call. The IBM team resolves the problem for us rapidly and at a reasonable cost. Right now we have a working API solution. And it doesn’t matter how we grow it, we will always reach out to IBM.”

Hendrickson USA logo
About Hendrickson USA

Founded in 1913, Hendrickson (link resides outside of ibm.com) is a privately owned global manufacturer and supplier of medium- and heavy-duty truck and trailer suspension systems, axles, brake systems and components to the global commercial transportation industry. The company is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, and has manufacturing and R&D centers in the US, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, the UK, Germany, France, Austria, Romania, Poland, Turkey, India, China, Japan, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.

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