Last year, Maclaren’s global head of technology Jim Ramsey was set a challenge by senior managers at the British baby stroller company.
His mission was to identify and implement a new back-office system that could run the whole business, without requiring his IT team to integrate add-on software packages, manage IT infrastructure or deal with regular, costly upgrades.
The need for an overhaul was more than apparent. Like an over-tired toddler, Maclaren (which this year celebrates its fiftieth anniversary), had lumbered along in ungainly style for long enough.
An unwieldy mix of technology was impeding its progress, Ramsey explains. At its back-end, Maclaren was running Microsoft Dynamics NAV as its primary ERP; NetSuite for order management; DemandWare for ecommerce; SANA Commerce for B2B sales; and a number of add-ons to DemandWare to handle things like product reviews and sales tax calculations.
Managing all these systems, says Ramsey:
...generated a lot of extra overhead and internal work. There was a lot of manual integration to perform - manually exporting data out of systems, putting the data into Excel, importing it into other systems. It was a big headache.
As its business has grown in complexity, so has the need for a better back-office set-up to carry it forward. Today, around half of Maclaren’s sales come through its business-to-business (B2B) channel, from 2,100 retail partners in 51 countries worldwide. The other half comes from country-specific business-to-consumer (B2C) sites for the US, the UK, France, Germany and Spain.
The resulting discomfort and exhaustion wasn’t just felt by the IT team, but across the business. Website managers were forced to update content separately on different websites, for example, while sales managers struggled to get a consolidated view of monthly sales data. The view of available inventory was, at times, limited. And customers weren’t immune either, says Ramsey:
We simply weren’t offering the customer experience we wanted to offer. On the B2B side, we couldn’t even take credit card payments from smaller retailers and distributors that are an important part of our business.
Ramsey began his search for a replacement back-office system with four vendors on his list: Microsoft, SAP, Epicor and NetSuite. According to his procurement criteria, the successful vendor would offer a ‘full’ cloud approach (rather than hosting options) and sophisticated, fully integrated ecommerce functions at a reasonable price. Quite quickly, he’d whittled the list down to Epicor and NetSuite, with NetSuite ultimately winning out.
Maclaren was soon moving forwards at cloud speed. The deal with NetSuite was signed in September 2014 and the project kicked-off on 4 November. The whole system went live less than eight weeks later, on 1 January 2015.
The company is now reaping the benefits, particularly in the area of B2B sales. The new system features on online B2B customer centre where retailers, regardless of size, can place orders, check order status, and view their accounts. Those small retailers can now pay be credit card, too.
In the past, around one in ten B2B customers placed orders online. The rest contacted their Maclaren account managers directly by phone or email.
Six months on since go live, and according to the most recent figures Ramsey’s seen, online orders now account for over half of all B2B sales.
For internal sales staff with the correct authorisation, meanwhile, consolidated monthly sales reports are easily produced at the click of a button. The company also now works from a single master item list of inventory across all of its sites.
Looking back, Ramsey’s glad he went ahead with the project, not least because of the time and effort he and his team are now saving.
It was an absurd implementation timeline for a project that involved 17 subsidiaries worldwide and where most of the work was carried out by our own internal team.
But we managed it - on no sleep and lots of coffee - and I’m glad we did. A single solution for company like ours, with a large global footprint but a relatively small employee base of 150 people, makes everyone’s lives a lot easier.
Disclosure - at time of writing NetSuite and SAP are diginomica premier partners.