Cintas, the well-known facilities services and uniform company whose iconic white delivery and service trucks visit nearly one million customers throughout North America, prides itself on appearances. The pressed, starched uniforms it delivers for workforces at restaurants, hotels, and other businesses are its calling card. Its signature professional look extends to employees at the company’s Mason, Ohio, headquarters, who are required to wear a business suit to work.
At Cintas, an “image is everything” mentality isn’t just a catchphrase; it informs how the company approaches many business and IT decisions. In 2014, when Cintas decided to consolidate a network of homegrown legacy systems as the first step in what eventually became a digital transformation, it was as though the company was cleaning out a wardrobe closet cluttered with outdated styles.
That situation didn’t arise from a lack of attention, however. Rather, each business unit — rentals, direct sales, fire safety, and facilities — had for a long time operated independently as its own profit center and had developed proprietary systems in accordance with unique processes. The incongruous landscape proved costly to maintain, created inconsistent customer experiences, and made it difficult for Cintas to understand its customers’ purchasing habits.
For example, the direct sales business employed five different front-end systems to run customer service processes and process online orders. When customers wanted to place an order, they first had to know which website to turn to. Back-end order management, billing, and shipping consisted of another dozen or so systems.
“The first part of our journey was to unify the platforms for billing, service orders, and everything else that touches how we service our customers,” says Matt Hough, Senior Director of Enterprise Applications at Cintas. “Our environment was challenging to support from an IT perspective, and from a business perspective, it was not easy to actually see what customers were doing.”
By consolidating this environment, Cintas could then take steps to provide an enhanced ecommerce platform, improve service options, and provide mobility functionality as cornerstones of a digital initiative.
Fast-Tracking the Digitization Journey with a Hosted Cloud
Cintas accomplished its systems consolidation by decommissioning the bulk of its legacy applications and implementing a single instance of SAP ERP to run mission-critical processes for each of its business units. At the same time Cintas stood up its new SAP ERP instance, it made another key decision to support its move to a digital-first framework by choosing to host its SAP infrastructure in a private cloud, hosted and managed by Freudenberg IT (FIT).
This decision would prove fortuitous later when Cintas implemented SAP Hybris Cloud for Customer and SAP Hybris Commerce; by moving to a hosted cloud, the company’s streamlined IT department could devote more time and resources to enhancing customer service functionality instead of maintenance and upkeep. In other words, it helped to fast-track the digitization journey.
“We didn’t want to be in the business of hosting our own systems anymore, but instead wanted to invest in the type of people who could actually enhance the business strategy,” Hough says. “There wasn’t much value for someone to say they upgraded a kernel on a box. But if that same individual could say he or she enabled spend management for customer x, then that provides real value to the company.”
Hough says that Cintas opted to partner with FIT for several reasons, among them being the company’s experience and best practices hosting SAP applications, its competitive disaster recovery and service availability guarantees, and the relative proximity of its primary North Carolina data center to Cintas’s Ohio headquarters.
FIT’s niche SAP experience was especially helpful, according to Hough, when Cintas had to decide how to best integrate SAP Hybris Cloud for Customer and SAP Hybris Commerce with the company’s SAP ERP instance. “During integrations, we leaned on them for input from a systems setup perspective on the challenges we might face and to ensure optimal performance,” he says. “They were and are part of the conversation if not the development.” (For more information about FIT services, refer to the sidebar at the end of the article.)
We didn’t want to be in the business of hosting our own systems anymore, but instead wanted to invest in the type of people who could actually enhance the business strategy.
— Matt Hough, Senior Director, Enterprise Applications, Cintas
A Fresh and Clean Customer Experience
In 2015 and 2016, Cintas brought its direct sales and rental business units live on SAP Hybris Cloud for Customer and SAP Hybris Commerce, offering online sales and service and online bill pay functionality. It expects to go live with ecommerce for the rental unit in the summer of 2017.
Now, in addition to being able to pay online, customers can also go online and easily access their account to put in a service change order. While this functionality seems basic, it sheds light on the complexity of Cintas’ previous environment that the company wasn’t able to provide the capability before. Rather, Cintas relied on its drivers’ personal interactions with customers — even so far as driving out to a customer to pick up a check for payment, for example.
“A lot of the work has been taken off our drivers, and customers now feel like they are in control of their own service,” Hough says. “For online bill pay, for example, we are seeing a significant decrease in accounts receivable work and an increase in on-time payment.”
Integration into the SAP ERP back end provides Cintas with newfound visibility into account activity as well. The previous environment with information located in a host of disparate systems made it difficult to focus a marketing campaign, for example, or to engage in cross-sell activities. Adding to the complexity, business units followed their own naming conventions, which was problematic for compiling material master records across business units.
“That was extremely challenging from a reporting perspective,” Hough says. “Going onto SAP ERP forced the conversation for how we were going to harmonize processes at an enterprise level and also ensured that we wouldn’t be customizing the SAP or SAP Hybris software too much for each business unit. Standardization was an important exercise.”
Providing a consistent user experience has translated into real-world benefits for Cintas — benefits that include a 23% increase in orders coming through the website and a similar increase in mobile ordering. “Customers are getting their orders in faster, and there are fewer errors,” Hough says. “And not only are there fewer orders taken over the phone, but the customer service representatives are now spending more time resolving issues and providing more value to the customer.”
In other words, the steps Cintas has taken on its digital journey have provided the company, and its customers, with an environment that mirrors the look it carefully cultivates for its products and services. “Our consistent digital presence with our customers gives us a professional, smart look. At the end of the day, it professionalizes our image,” Hough says.