Small to midsize organizations operating worldwide face similar challenges as large global corporations — only these companies have tighter budgets to resolve the same issues. Vitra Group, a midsize Swiss-based furniture company with global operations, is one such business that was looking for a way to better orchestrate its ad hoc processes and projects that involve a host of internal partners — such as manufacturing facilities, central logistics, and information technology — as well as external partners like furniture dealers and architects.
With people and processes that span the globe and involve multiple time zones and locations, businesses like Vitra need to ensure that information flows in a controlled manner, and people can collaborate asynchronously.
“To be able to support both structured and unstructured information all throughout the world, while still maintaining control over data and processes, we need to be flexible and mobile,” says Tim Hanack, Director of Business Technology at Vitra Group. “Collaboration technology will help us work closely together, independent of physical location. And being able to share information without the need for extensive travel will also save us a lot of time and money.”
New Technology Brings Improved Information Sharing
Long gone are the days of mailing letters or traveling great distances to have meaningful business conversations. As time goes by, even communication through email correspondence is slowly becoming outdated.
Collaboration technologies like web conferencing, instant messaging, and telepresence have changed the way businesses share information. Now, solutions exist that let individuals collaborate on projects and activities, regardless of where they are situated, and share, analyze, and visualize data together in real time.
When Vitra began a search for a collaboration technology, the business welcomed the opportunity to investigate cloud solutions that would involve limited cost and effort embedded into its processes. The business evaluated a number of solutions from different vendors, but as Vitra has been an SAP customer since 1995, it was a logical choice to select SAP StreamWork.
“We were looking for a solution that would offer in-house integration to the other process-driven systems we have in place, and that was something we didn’t see with the other cloud solutions,” says Hanack. “We liked the fact that SAP StreamWork would integrate with our existing solutions, for example, SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM). It’s a real business benefit for us to be able to share sales opportunity information with our external partners like dealers and architects.”
Previously, Vitra never had a platform in place to exchange information with partners. “When we collaborated with external partners, historically, we sent emails with various attachments, which created distribution and collection issues because we were never sure if we included all the necessary recipients, and then subsequently had to dig through our mailbox to find the most recent and updated information,” Hanack says.
Keeping track of numerous tasks and activities in projects was also a challenge for Vitra, as this was done by various people in different Microsoft Excel spreadsheets or Word documents. “We wanted a single source of truth that anyone could update and not have to worry about permission settings or anything like that,” he added.
To achieve this single source of truth for project documentation, Vitra implemented SAP StreamWork. The effort and cost involved for the team to get the solution up, running, and stable was minimal, according to Hanack, and only took a matter of days. So far, Vitra has licensed 100 users for SAP StreamWork. For the most part, the operations, business technology, and development departments are using the functionality — with an additional 200 future licenses planned for the sales team.
Training was also conducted smoothly; only 30 minutes were needed to sufficiently educate each user on the new solution’s features and tools. Though training was quick and easy, according to Hanack, it was crucial. “If we didn’t show people all the capabilities, they would most likely just go in the solution and upload documents and spreadsheets as they did with email,” he says. “The reality is that the solution is structured around activities, not just documents. Users will find they need to change their document-centric mentality, in terms of how they organize their work, and learn to think in a more activity-centric manner.”
What Improved Collaboration Means for the Business
Aside from its use internally, so far Vitra has tested the platform by sharing information with some external partners. “We have several collaboration projects going on with external partners, whether it’s technology companies or value-adding partners on the supply side, where it’s proven to be helpful,” Hanack says. “For example, we are keeping all the information on SAP StreamWork for a project with a technology partner in Norway. It has been extremely convenient checking in the information and receiving feed updates at the desired frequency.”
In addition, Vitra has begun a pilot rollout of integrating SAP StreamWork with SAP CRM to collaborate with even more of the company’s external partners. “No longer will we share documents, like production plans and potential demand forecasts, with suppliers by emailing back and forth. Going forward, all this communication and information sharing will be based strictly on SAP StreamWork,” says Hanack.
The plan is to go live with SAP CRM, including the SAP StreamWork integration, in Germany and Switzerland in October, and then roll out the functionality to the rest of the Vitra world sometime in the first quarter of 2013. But according to Hanack, the first results and feedback are very encouraging.
When discussing the prospect of opening up SAP StreamWork to a wider group of users, making a business case for salespeople to use the solution was relatively easy. The benefits of sharing information with those external partners on a common platform are fairly transparent. For example, in the sales process — where the goal is to make zero mistakes — it’s very important to communicate high-quality information.
Vitra sees additional value in making the SAP StreamWork cloud solution available to every individual within the organization. For a midsize company, the increase in cost to do this is not minimal, so the business case has to be concrete. “We have to try,” says Hanack. “We are in the process of coming up with more examples of where SAP StreamWork is helping us. And one of the keys is integration.”
Vitra is keenly interested in exploring the potential integration capabilities of SAP StreamWork with SAP NetWeaver Portal, other SAP Business Suite applications like SAP ERP, and mobile devices.
Rolling Out Mobile Devices
In conjunction with the rollout of SAP CRM at Vitra, the business will also be rolling out the use of iPads within the sales organization, for people both in the field and at the headquarters.
According to Hanack, Vitra will be using the Sybase Unwired Platform underneath and using SAP StreamWork to integrate with the web interface of SAP CRM. Additionally, the business will implement whichever client is available on the iPad at the time of the rollout.
“We hope that there will be a full-featured iPad client available soon that allows offline access to SAP StreamWork,” Hanack says. “This would not only solve data distribution issues we are currently facing, but it would also provide a more consistent user experience on our mobile devices.”
Vitra is always eager to adopt new technologies that help its business processes become more productive, efficient, and effective, according to Hanack. “On one hand, it’s great that we are willing to take that risk,” he says. “But on the other hand, it’s also great that SAP is motivated to fulfill its promises.”