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Case Study: Web & SMS-based applications

Using Web and SMS for business

A manufacturing company uses tools like Web-enablement and SMS integration to connect its employees. Its WAN is simple yet cost-effective, and it works. by Rahul Neel Mani & Shipra Arora

New Holland Tractors (India) Pvt. Ltd., a 100 percent subsidiary of CNH Global, is a busy manufacturing company that rolls out 45 tractors a day. It has 400 nationwide employees, and manages its operations with effective use of IT over a dedicated WAN.

A number of its employees need to visit various parts of the country for regular activities like marketing, sales, and maintaining dealer contacts. This incurred travelling expenditure and also led to problems like maintaining communication with the Head Office, and ability to access company workflow applications.

To address these issues, the company deployed a Web-enabled solution complemented with SMS, to allow flow of information between the company and its personnel on the road.

The Web helps

The company set up Commercial Business Units (CBUs) across the country led by CBU managers to maintain links and coordinate with the travelling personnel. But that wasn't enough to solve the problems of communication and data access.

"It was difficult to keep the dispersed employees connected with the company head office and its workflow applications. And we did not want to deploy an expensive and elaborate office infrastructure at all locations," explained Avinash Arora, Director-Information Systems, New Holland Tractors (India).

The company deployed a 'Web-enabled' solution by which the Web-based tools are used to access the company workflow applications and provide a CBU work support system.

Workflow applications

The workflow applications at the plant are based on Lotus Notes and have been Web-enabled. It's hosted at Tata Internet Services Limited's (TISL) IDC.

CBUs are present in 14 nationwide locations where the CBU manager has a team for sales, service, and tractor spares. The staff at the CBUs can log on to the company's Website and use the workflow applications at the Head Office and the plant.

The in-house development team has created a CBU work support application containing all modules relating to sales and accounting. The Web-enabled system is further tightly integrated with the Baan ERP system implemented in New Holland.

The entire design, business logic, and system evolvement was developed by in-house teams in consultation with users. Activities related to scripting of applications were outsourced.

This was because the company wanted a solution customized to the unique requirements of the tractor industry, which is a rural market-oriented industry, and quite different from a normal auto industry. The company spent around Rupees 6 Lakh for Web-enabling itself.

Key workflow Features

The Web-enabled application enables CBU members to do forecast and prepare plans on a monthly and annual basis. They can also perform functions like enter collections and orders data into the system, view the outstanding details of a particular dealer, and calculate the collections made from a particular dealer point.

These information are consolidated automatically at the head office since the application is integrated with ERP. For instance, as soon as a tractor invoice is generated, it is dispatched through the Baan ERP application. The data is then pulled out from Baan and put into the Web application.

Details on what has been sent to dealers, is available to every CBU member on the field, including the CBU manager. Since this is a 24x7 system that's tightly integrated with ERP, any dispatch that takes place gets published in the CBU system. The system has other features like follow-ups and certain processes have been automated to act like a tracking and monitoring system.

"This system is much more efficient compared to our previous practice. Previously, MS-Excel sheets were used to compile lots of data, and two or three resources had to be dedicated for the job. Currently, most workflow functions are automatic, and nobody has to generate manual reports since the system is action-oriented. The Web-based system has resulted in huge cost savings for the company," said Arora.

Security

The CBU application is protected with the help of firewalls and user authentication (login and password) measures. A CBU manager and his team can access only specific dealers for which they are authorized. To further enhance security, the company is evaluating the use of a dedicated link to its Website.

Bottleneck

Over a period of time the company realized that connectivity was a big issue for CBUs in remote locations. Despite having a Web-based solution, CBU members were still calling and registering orders using their mobile phones. New Holland decided to use SMS to resolve the problem of connectivity. After evaluating some SMS solutions it narrowed down on an SMS solution developed by Osprey UK.

The SMS engine

The back-end infrastructure of this SMS system includes an SMS engine, which is a Nokia modem with a SIM card connected to an SMS server. The company used a high-end PC for an SMS server and installed a database engine in it. It developed applications using Java and bought Osprey's proprietary data management language software. With this basic infrastructure New Holland started developing the business logics for the SMS application.

Explains Arora, "The business logics were developed in-house as we understood our CBU Web-based application and ERP system very well. This is very critical, as the SMS system is integrated with both the CBU application and the ERP system."

The process basically involves getting extracted information from these two sources, merging it, converting it into an SMS table, and pushing this information onto various mobile terminals. Using the SMS system, the information gets updated into the CBU application, and from the CBU application it gets updated into the ERP without the need for Internet connectivity.

Applications

In the beginning, the system used 'push-based' information. Pre-defined information was flashed to key personnel nationwide. This included details about dealer outstanding, dispatch status, day-wise dispatches, monthly dispatches, day-wise production, and monthly production. In the morning, personnel would get around eight capsules of information on their mobile phones. So it wouldn't matter if they've hadn't logged on to the Website.

This was followed by using 'pull-based' information. For instance, if a CBU member wanted to know about the outstanding position of a dealer, he could enter a pre-defined SMS command and send it to the mobile number, which was connected to the SMS server. With this, the information is pushed via the ERP system into the SMS server. The required information is pulled out and flashed back to the member.

Presently around 15 applications run on the SMS system. This includes tracking the dealer position, the entire CBU status, the outstanding for a particular CBU, collections, the dispatches to a CBU, and tracking information on stocks and production. One can view the entire country's status in terms of outstanding, collections, and dispatches. The cost of SMS integration was Rupees 77,000.

Security for SMS system

Adequate security of the SMS system has been provisioned. The business logic does not allow anyone to pull and push information unless the SMS server authenticates the user.

Pull and push information also occurs through an intermediate database, which has also been secured. The system requires validation and flashes back a message to the person concerned that the message has been accepted, followed by a confirmatory message, that it has been updated. The time taken depends on how long it takes for the message to get delivered to another mobile user.

Impact

Initiated five months ago New Holland has experienced a lot of demand from users about how they can update information into the CBU and ERP systems. Though it is in the process of evaluating the benefits, Arora says that the SMS system has cut down a lot of communication cost with even the net connectivity costs coming down.

"The investment in this technology is low, and the cost and other benefits are enormous. We only have to deal with capsules of information supplied by the users. The CBUs have to act based on this information. So it acts like a decision support system," said Arora.

Future Plans

New Holland is now planning to extend the scope of the system. It is presently working on enabling booking of orders through SMS. "Right now orders are booked through the CBU applications. We will soon book orders through SMS," said Arora.

It is working on creating an application, which allows information more than 150 characters to be sent as an e-mail message to the concerned person. A notification is also sent to the CBU member on delivery.

The company is also going to automate its employee portal and is in the process of implementing Baan HR. The tracking of recruitment and monitoring system through Baan HR will be integrated with the SMS system.

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New Holland India

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In a nutshell

The company
New Holland Tractors (India) Pvt. Ltd., a 100 percent subsidiary of CNH Global, is a busy manufacturing company that rolls out 45 tractors a day. It has 400 nationwide employees.

The need
Employees at nationwide locations had to communicate with the company offices, access company workflow applications, and update ERP systems. But connectivity and data access methods were unreliable.

The solution
The company deployed a Web-based solution to extend the functionalities of ERP and company workflow applications. It used SMS-based solutions, which allowed personnel to share information with the company's servers.

The benefits
Employees at remote locations and nationwide offices can access the corporate workflow systems and access updated data. While on the move, the personnel can update systems and receive capsules of information through SMS.

 
     
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