A polished supply chain

Four years ago, MasterBrand Cabinets CIO Dave Mewes faced one of the toughest challenges of his career. Fortune Brands, the parent holding company, wanted to diversify its portfolio of cabinet products and began an acquisition spree under the MasterBrand name. Mewes' mission soon became clear: Tie together the supply-chain management systems of six diverse business units and four sales channels without replacing the dozens of legacy systems used by each group.

"We couldn't go in and rip everything out because we had a business to run. And we weren't really under one large umbrella so we couldn't completely unify," he says.

Mewes had to figure out an alternate way to gain visibility into the disparate order-entry systems, which included everything from SAP databases to CAD/CAM file stores to Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, so that all of the business units and sales channels could view critical information in real time. The resulting effort, which has saved the company a bundle while making supply-chain management far more efficient, has earned MasterBrand a 2006 Enterprise All-Star Award.

Visibility far and wide

After 18 months of intense research that began in mid-2004, Mewes and his team rolled out Vitria Technology's Perfect Order system at the end of last year. Perfect Order's robust messaging system lets employees, customers and customer service representatives link order information, including customer data, faxes and manually entered specs, from the myriad legacy applications into a unified Web-based console view, he says. "Visibility is available to any and all. They can see an order history end to end as a single project," he adds.

Mewes, who used his existing network infrastructure, says his team spent US$80,000 for an architect to develop parts of the order visibility network, such as the back-order process. "Once you have a foundation of development, it is reusable. This equates to less money and less time," he says.

He's also seen savings from making the order fulfillment process more efficient, estimating a US$300,000 reduction in shipping costs annually because of better order visibility. "Trucks are not sealed and sent away with product available. We no longer have FedEx and UPS charges for items that were overlooked in the initial shipping," he says.

Now that this U.S. company has insight into the end-to-end process, orders can be routed to the appropriate manufacturing plant for on-time delivery and order processing has been cut from five days to 20 minutes, Mewes says. And the ability to configure semicustom orders online has reduced the workloads of order entry, customer service and production scheduling teams by 20 percent and led to an 80 percent drop in administrative work required across five corporate Web sites, he adds. The company also has seen a 40 percent drop in customer service phone traffic, leading to reduced staffing costs.

MasterBrand's decision to keep the legacy systems intact and put a strong application on top was a big win, Mewes says. "We needed to be agile, and overhauling the ERP systems would have taken 18 to 24 months. We did what we needed to do in 18 to 24 weeks."

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