Corporate Express beats supply chain woes

B2B office supplier Corporate Express Australia claims it is no longer battling with cumbersome supply chain integration problems with its partners after implementing a new automated system for its 1000-plus customers.

The system has helped the $450 million company evolve from procure to pay supply chain integration on both the buy and supply side of business.

While the company already operates a B2B e-procurement site (NetExpress II) for customers, its CIO Garry Whately said the company needed to extend the level of automation and process integration across its supply chain with one aim in mind: to drive down soft costs tied to order processing like invoicing.

He said while NetExpress II provides customers with self-service e-procurement for office supplies, consumerables and services, one area of business it failed to address was deep integration of information back into the customers' enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

"Our ERP system (a combination of i2, Siebel and SAP products) did provide one view of the customer, but we couldn't pass that onto the customer," he said.

The barrier was that the company's back-end systems could not link with those of the customer due to the conflicting e-procurement and ERP systems that Corporate Express and its customers used.

At the end of January, Corporate Express deployed a B2B integration (B2Bi) and e-commerce solution from WebMethods which allows the company to integrate its customers, suppliers and business partners into its B2B trading network.

"The WebMethods solution gives us everything we need to tightly integrate our back-end systems with those of our customers and suppliers, regardless of which platform they are using," Whately said.

"It takes the complexity out of our existing ERP system by doing all the information mapping for us, and lets us handle different customer transactions at one time by providing a management framework for all our e-procurement and B2B activities," he explained.

Whately said the new system has driven down the cycle time for orders, reduced purchase order processing costs with big account suppliers like WC Penfolds, 3M and Hewlett-Packard, from $100 to $10, reduced error rates inherent in re-keying facsimile information, and eased the headache of sorting through reams of paperwork.

The system has also improved the company's relationships with business partners by giving employees real-time access to current customer and supplier information. Overall, business has also grown by 20 per cent since the company went live with the new system.

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