Reshaping supply chain processes with automation

For Saint-Gobain, manual entries are a thing of the past
by Jack Honig
5-minute read
Saint-Gobain Tower - La Défense from the inside looking out over the city

As the eBusiness Manager for the North American region at Saint-Gobain, Chase Shelby was tasked with replacing the vast amount of paper it exchanged with clients and vendors for ordering, shipment tracking and invoicing.

The company needed to reduce costs, improve operational efficiency and streamline manual processes. And it needed an automated solution to accomplish this. Customer service representatives (CSRs) were being bogged down by manual order entry processes and felt bombarded by requests for bills of loading, shipment tracking and invoices.

The company was also looking to onboard customers faster, simplify ordering by offering complementary vendor products, improve ordering efficiency for large customers and deploy an electronic data interchange (EDI) solution that could provide a competitive advantage to attract more customers and vendors.

Saint-Gobain also wanted this solution to be secure and cloud-based.

Shelby says that before he was promoted into his eBusiness role, he was a CSR at Saint-Gobain. He points out that he had to manually take orders over the phone, enter them and take calls to provide tracking information or address requests to provide customer documents such as invoices. He describes this process as being inefficient and slow. It was his personal experience that helped drive the need to find a more efficient EDI solution.

Showroom de la Tour Saint-Gobain (Paris La Défense) with a sign that reads: Digital Solutions

Costs saved using EDI technology

92%

per line order

Company can now receive documents

24

hours a day, every day of the week

I started to see the cost efficiency of being able to transact through EDI rather than manually, like CSRs tend to do.
Chase Shelby
eBusiness Manager, North America, Saint-Gobain Abrasives
Showroom de la Tour Saint-Gobain (Paris La Défense)
With the specifications that IBM created for us, we have been able to move several vendors to EDI — all using one generic map. It has been very successful.
Chase Shelby
eBusiness Manager, North America, Saint-Gobain Abrasives
EDI supplies a solution for POs and shipping
With the specifications that IBM created for us, we have been able to move several vendors to EDI — all using one generic map. It has been very successful.
Chase Shelby
eBusiness Manager, North America, Saint-Gobain Abrasives

Saint-Gobain chose to deploy the cloud-based IBM® Sterling™ Supply Chain Business Network Premium solution to create EDI specifications to send to its vendors. It chose this option because of the cost efficiency advantages of EDI over manual processes.

Shelby points out that the IBM supply chain solution has improved efficiency in ordering, invoicing and shipping. He says that customers can now receive automatic shipping notifications that go directly into their systems, view tracking numbers, know when their orders will arrive and access all other pertinent shipping information.

Elaborating on the detailed information that EDI provides his customers, Shelby says that Saint-Gobain can now send Advanced Shipping Notices (ASNs) to its customers’ distribution centers. When customers scan the barcodes on the products they receive, they tie directly to the ASNs sent by EDI and indicate everything that is in each package. As a result, these customers no longer have to call CSRs to get a packing slip or any other shipping-related documentation.

“We have made-to-order products and stock products,” says Shelby. “It’s pretty rare that we’re going to have one purchase order, one invoice and one shipment against it. So if a customer orders stock and made-to-order items in one PO, we’re going to have several invoices and ASNs. Using the solution’s business analytics tool, we’re able to go in and just search for the PO number, bring back all of the ASNs, all of the invoices and all relevant documents and send them to the customer in one query.”

The lobby of the Saint-Gobain (Paris La Défense) building
Window with Pyroswiss fire protection glass from Vetrotech in a warehouse

He cited another important improvement that the solution has afforded the company. As a result of the IBM solution deployment, Saint-Gobain has partnered with another company that sells complementary goods. Using the IBM Sterling solution, a customer can order directly from Saint-Gobain and order the complementary product on the same invoice. Saint-Gobain ships its product to the customer, and its partner drop-ships the complementary product. And the entire process it handled through EDI.

“The customer enjoys this because they’re only going to receive one invoice from two companies under one purchase order number,” Shelby says. “The partnership is not only good for both of us, sales-wise, but it’s also good for the customer, who does not have to deal with multiple vendors.”

As a Sterling Supply Chain Business Network Premium user, Saint-Gobain has access to IBM mapping experts that are assigned to crucial aspects of the manufacturer’s EDI solutions. “That allows us to have multiple projects going at one time because I can open up issues with IBM and have them working on creating a map for one customer, while I’m testing another one,” says Shelby.

He says that using IBM’s resources also allow his company to onboard customers more quickly than if he had been doing this in-house. Not only is it faster, but the process is more streamlined, too. “I fill out a simple form. I just fill it in with the customer EDI information and tell our team which maps to copy from,” Shelby says. He adds that these forms can be copied and customized for each customer to suit the particular EDI needs of each one.

Saint-Gobain's cube of mirrors for the Atelier des Lumières, and its immersive exhibitions.
Showroom de la Tour Saint-Gobain (Paris La Défense)

Saint-Gobain can also take advantage of the increased visibility and AI capabilities that come with the premium IBM supply chain solution. Shelby says that automating the transfer of documents and shipping notifications for invoices directly into its customers’ systems provides them with greater visibility into the process. As such, customers don’t have to call or email Saint-Gobain for additional information, which frees up its CSRs for other value-added tasks.

Commenting on the impact of moving Saint-Gobain’s supply chain EDI to the cloud, Shelby notes that, “We’re able to take some of the server load that we had in-house and move it to the cloud, with IBM managing it for us through IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Network Premium.”

Reduced costs just scratch the surface

The IBM solution benefits Saint-Gobain because it eliminates manual order entry for CSRs so they are free to be proactive, not reactive, with customers. “They’re not spending their time entering orders every day, taking phone calls and asking for copies of invoices or packing slips,” says Shelby.

Another benefit is that the company can now send POs, ASNs and invoices to customers by EDI. Previously, customers would request this information from the company’s CSRs; now, the number of these calls has fallen dramatically.

Shelby notes that one of the most significant efficiency gains of using EDI for POs is greater speed and accuracy, and the company can now receive documents 24 hours a day, every day of the week. “Our main goal every year is to bring on as many customers to EDI as possible. We hover somewhere between 50% and 60% right now,” Shelby says.

Saint-Gobain Abrasives logo
About Saint-Gobain Abrasives

Saint-GobainExternal Link is a leading global manufacturer of abrasives. The company designs customized solutions to secure the best option for performance, cost and safety. With 130-plus years of experience and over 10,000 employees, it serves customers through its network of 60 facilities in almost 30 countries. The company is headquartered in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Solution components
Saint-Gobain Abrasives logo
About Saint-Gobain Abrasives

Saint-GobainExternal Link is a leading global manufacturer of abrasives. The company designs customized solutions to secure the best option for performance, cost and safety. With 130-plus years of experience and over 10,000 employees, it serves customers through its network of 60 facilities in almost 30 countries. The company is headquartered in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Solution components
Sign on the front of the Saint-Gobain (Paris La Défense) building brandishing the company logo

With the access IBM’s supply chain solution provides to IBM mapping experts, Saint-Gobain can keep its EDI costs down because it needs fewer mappers and administrators. The solution also makes it easier for the company to work on multiple projects simultaneously.

Another cost savings for Saint-Gobain occurs through the solution’s analytics. Shelby says that using analytics, the company can reduce costs by identifying processes that were archaic and inefficient. He cites an example: “At the time, when we sent an invoice to a customer, we would also send back a status document to our SAP system letting it know that the invoice was received by IBM. By eliminating this process, we saved quite a bit on our monthly document costs.”

Shelby says that Saint-Gobain plans to extend access to the IBM Sterling Business Transaction Intelligence solution to the company’s accounts receivable department. That department frequently comes to his eBusiness team to ask if a customer has successfully received an invoice through EDI. But allowing the accounts receivable department to connect to Sterling Business Transaction Intelligence will reduce the back-and-forth between departments and so it can directly access the data it’s asking for.