In the US, American Standard is widely recognized as a foremost brand of toilets, sinks, faucets, fixtures, and other kitchen and bathroom products. However, the company’s efforts to become a household name in Mexico were impacted by an unreliable website and inefficient business processes for updating product data.
Although Mexico is an important manufacturing base for American Standard, that nation represents only a fraction of the company’s retail market. Increasing brand awareness and improving sales in Mexico required replacing the company’s faulty Spanish-language website that was developed by a third-party services company and moving the management of that site in-house — all while leveraging the SAP technology the company already had in place.
According to Victor Colon, CIO of American Standard, securing executive buy-in for the website project was not a difficult endeavor because it squared perfectly with the company’s ongoing master data initiatives and aggressive e-commerce strategy.
“Our CEO Don Devine is very interested in strategically promoting our brand using the Internet and social networking. To capitalize on the opportunity that the web presents, he manages the web as a distinct business unit,” says Colon. “This initiative, aligned with our business strategy, creates opportunity to grow our market share in Mexico.”
The Business Drivers for the New Website
In order to update product information on the previous website — adding new products, uploading new images of existing products, or updating descriptions of products, for example — American Standard’s business users had to request changes to the site by emailing the website provider. The site was hosted on an off-site server, and the provider was having difficulty keeping pace with the volume of change requests.
“There were times when some updates would show up on the site while others did not, so the information wasn’t always up to date,” says Colon. “That caused a lot of delays and confusion internally and with our Mexican customers.”
Mukunda Krishnaswamy, CTO of American Standard, describes the method the Mexican business was using as “not dependable.” He adds, “While it was difficult to figure out what went wrong when the site crashed, the more critical issue was that it was difficult to keep product information on the site updated.”
||American Standard project team (L to R): Prasad Chunduri, Natalie Zhang, Victor Colon, Mukunda Krishnaswamy, Geding Dan, and Dinesh Nakka
“We have minimized inefficiencies around how we update product data and have significantly improved the completeness and accuracy of the information.”
Victor Colon, CIO, American Standard
Maintaining and Publishing Accurate Product Data
To remedy the problem, American Standard came up with a solution in which accurate product data is fed from a central repository to a new website (shown below) that offers customers a more complete and functional user experience. The solution, which involved SAP software, has also streamlined the process of keeping product information up to date by allowing business users to easily update the data repository themselves.
||Up-to-date product data pulled from a central repository and published on the American Standard Mexico website
In 2006, American Standard implemented SAP NetWeaver Master Data Management (SAP NetWeaver MDM) in order to provide accurate product information to its channel partners. “Over the last four years, we have done a few MDM projects, and here we had a specific business problem to solve. Using a combination of SAP NetWeaver MDM, SAP NetWeaver Portal, and other technologies, we were able to solve the problem,” says Krishnaswamy.
In 2008, the company decided to build on its MDM initiative to increase brand awareness in Mexico. “Our strategy is to use the technologies we have to drive not only our core ERP processes, but also key projects supporting marketing and customer service, all to help build awareness of our brand,” says Colon.
||Victor Colon, CIO, American Standard
Transitioning to the New Website: 3 Key Goals
The project’s first phase, which began in November 2008, focused on transitioning to the new website and tying the product data displayed on the site to SAP NetWeaver MDM.
To accomplish this, American Standard needed to achieve three goals:
1. Build a central repository for product information
As is true in many companies, product data at American Standard Mexico was stored in multiple silos, such as spreadsheets, ad hoc databases, and other forms. To ensure that product data was accurate and consistent company-wide, the business needed to first centralize product data in a single repository and make that data available to the business users and applications that needed it.
2. Create a new customer-facing website
To build brand awareness, American Standard needed a country-specific website that would offer customers in Mexico up-to-date product information and a friendly user experience. The project team identified several key deliverables for a new website, including:
- Accurate and timely product information
- Easy navigation via search and categorization
- High uptime and site performance
- A platform for e-commerce
- Social networking capabilities
3. Give business users the tools they need to keep product information up to date
Keeping product data up to date required the project team to create an internal portal that allows business users to make changes or add information to the centralized product data repository. The website then pulls the information directly from the repository, ensuring that American Standard’s internal and external users see the same updated product data.
“We wanted to use the product database to connect the maintenance to the publication process, so we would have full control over how we maintain product data and how we publish it,” says Krishnaswamy.
He adds that it’s important for companies not to overlook skills in front-end web creation and search engine optimization (SEO) — key skills for generating traffic and ensuring a pleasant user experience.
“If you’re developing a customer-facing website, it’s helpful to have resources with good web graphics skill sets. That’s not typical in an ERP-based IT department,” he says. “In addition, you might require help developing marketing-driven context because you have to put something together that’s consumer- or customer-friendly.”
||Roberto Martinez, Vice President and General Manager of Sales, American Standard Mexico
Promoting Products Through Social Networking
In the project’s second phase, the project team added advanced features (such as related product information) to the site, and branched out into social networking by building a dedicated American Standard Mexico presence on Facebook.
The Facebook page (shown below) offers product updates and information via photos, videos, and status updates. To create interest in the Facebook page, the project team reached out to its own employees first.
“We started off with friends and family, but now people are using it constantly,” says Yuviza Guthmiller, senior analyst, American Standard. “We also provide people with data on how our products help save water or are otherwise eco-friendly, and we’re using that to draw interest in Facebook.”
||The American Standard Mexico Facebook page
Overcoming Hurdles: How American Standard Connected the Right Parts
Accomplishing the project’s three main objectives required the project team to overcome several challenges. Because the team was based at American Standard’s headquarters in New Jersey, team members had to communicate with the division in Mexico via phone and email to determine the project requirements. The team had difficulty finalizing and enforcing a single set of requirements.
However, after careful planning, the team was able to construct a system in which the company’s SAP and other systems feed data to a master repository in SAP NetWeaver MDM. Business users connect to this repository to update or add product information, and the product data then replicates to a separate repository that feeds information to the website.
The reason the project team created separate repositories was to improve performance, create stability, and allow users to review data before publishing it to the external site. “In the future, we can build several repositories that pull data from the same master repository, for example, to support different languages,” says Krishnaswamy.
“The work we have done through SAP NetWeaver MDM and SAP NetWeaver Portal provides us with a solid foundation to rapidly deliver online order management and e-commerce capabilities to our business.”
Mukunda Krishnaswamy, CTO, American Standard
Expanding the Solution
The new website has not had any unscheduled downtime, has provided fast responses, and has attracted renewed interest from customers.
Roberto Martinez, Vice President and General Manager of Sales for American Standard Mexico says, “We are excited about this new website for our business in Mexico. It will help us offer a stronger, more compelling value proposition to our commercial, retail, and wholesale customers. Our customers will now be able to easily select from a broad mix of products and rely on consistently high levels of quality, value, and customer service.”
The project team is currently working on integrating this website with the company’s SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM) application to enable e-commerce. Looking ahead, the project team will enhance functionality offered on this site to include order status and shipment information.
“We’re planning to use a lot of the functionality we have today to implement a quick online sales and SAP CRM solution. The work we’ve done through SAP NetWeaver MDM is the foundation,” says Krishnaswamy.