When Sysco undertook a major business transformation a few years ago, the goal was to put in place the necessary business processes and systems that would allow the organization to reduce costs, increase revenues, and make it easier for customers and suppliers to do business with North America’s largest foodservice distribution company.
At the heart of this transformation was an effort to streamline Sysco’s business processes, many of which were still decentralized and reliant on paper documents. For example, accounts payable processes were managed independently at Sysco’s 180 different distribution locations. Employees would circulate paper documents and enter accounts payable data into the system manually, and then mail paper checks to suppliers. Sysco needed a way to transition from paper-based processes and get information where it needed to be in a faster and more proficient manner.
“The goals of this business transformation were to reduce cost, become more streamlined, and serve our customers more efficiently,” says Ernie Dries, Senior Director of Enterprise Information Management (EIM) at Sysco. “And one way to accomplish that is to embed content management into business processes.”
“The goals of this business transformation were to reduce cost, become more streamlined, and serve our customers more efficiently.”
— Ernie Dries, Senior Director of Enterprise Information Management, Sysco
So as Sysco moved to a centralized, shared-services business process environment — using SAP ERP as its central IT platform — the business, along with its partners Deloitte and Alitek, developed an enterprise content management strategy that would reduce the organization’s reliance on paper forms, but still provide the content required to support transactional activity. Sysco’s EIM team integrated a number of solution extensions for SAP software by OpenText into its IT landscape leading up to the go-live, which has improved both internal and external processes.
Supporting the Process
One of the best examples of how the new IT infrastructure supports the newly designed business processes is invoice processing. In the past, Sysco employees at the first five broad-line operating companies received and processed invoices manually, including routing the physical invoice and getting necessary approvals.
Using SAP Invoice Management by OpenText, employees at these first five operating companies can now scan and digitize the invoices, which are then easily routed for review and approval in an automated fashion. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) transmissions are received and converted to a readable format. All of the digitized invoices are stored in the SAP Archiving application by OpenText, which integrates business documents with SAP transactions and workflows along with the SAP Document Access application by OpenText.
“There is limited to no human interaction required for an invoice to be paid today,” says Dries regarding the new system. If an exception takes place, the invoice workflow routes the review and approvals to the appropriate teams.
The content in SAP Document Access and SAP Archiving connects to SAP applications through transaction metadata, so users can determine which process the content is associated with. For example, if photographs of broken cases are uploaded at the receiving dock, they can be linked to a purchase order (PO) number and a check number. Because these solution extensions integrate with the SAP environment, users are interacting with a familiar SAP system in which they’ve already been trained.
Delivering the Portal
As part of Sysco’s efforts to streamline internal and external processes, the company chose a portal delivered through SAP Supplier Network Collaboration and supported by SAP Extended Enterprise Content Management (SAP Extended ECM) by OpenText. The combination of technologies allows the enrichment of content in the portal. Sysco leveraged this strategy for the technology enablement of its order-management portal that offers customers the opportunity to enter orders in a self-service manner. Currently, this capability is provided to the first five of Sysco’s broad-line operating companies.
For these five operating companies, the customer portal that Sysco and Deloitte built leveraging SAP and OpenText technology allows customers to browse products and place orders at their convenience. Product images and videos are stored in SAP Extended ECM and pushed to the portal. Customers can view product images and even view recipe video clips for prepared food products. If the customer profile matches relevant campaigns, campaign product images are served up on the portal.
Because the portal also integrates with back-end systems, including SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM), the customers supported by these five operating companies can place orders through the portal and even pay bills. This solution is very convenient for Sysco’s customers in particular because professionals in the foodservice industry often conduct business after hours. For restaurant owners who place orders late at night, the portal provides them with much more flexibility than relying on in-person visits.
“The customer portal doesn’t take the human element out of our relationship, but it provides the vehicle for our customers to do business with Sysco without having to speak to a person,” says Dries. In fact, prior to designing the portal, Sysco conducted an extensive survey of its customer base to ensure the portal met customer needs but didn’t conflict with other customer requirements. “The decisions about how the portal looks and performs were made by the business side, not the IT side,” he says.
Certainly a major business transformation provides many lessons, but the biggest one Sysco discovered, according to Dries, is to ensure that every step in the project is business-driven and has a direct return.
“That means making sure everything you are spending money on — the technology, the consulting services, the changes — has a business return and, more importantly, that the business believes in it,” he says. “If the customers, suppliers, or internal leaders don’t support the business case, they won’t use the technology, and the company then is basically throwing money away.”
Dries also recommends to roll out all SAP and partner solutions at once with a single interface, if possible, so users don’t realize there are different solutions at work. “In our implementations, we choose a specific location. On Friday, they are on the legacy system. On Monday, they are transferred to the new environment,” he says. “The users don’t know all of the technology behind the scenes. They just know that their process has changed for the better.”
Lastly, Sysco considered how it would handle unstructured data from the project’s outset. It wasn’t an afterthought, but was built into the processes and project — making performance of the new systems much smoother.