C&H wound up implementing SEEBURGER's Business Integration Server (BIS) in conjunction with its SAP implementation. BIS comes with application adapters, a conversion engine for handling various message formats, 60 different communications protocols and, importantly, pre-defined SAP workflows. The SAP implementation initially was to take five months and go live in mid-2003, but about three months into the project C&H decided to extend the scope of the implementation by five months to encompass warehouse management as well to provide better visibility into the company's warehouse facilities and boost inventory control. As a result, the project went live at the start of October 2004.
The changeover to the new ERP system was relatively painless, Walden says, explaining that C&H's approach in implementing the project was to keep the scope as limited as practical and focus on moving away from the company's legacy system. "We knew that there were lots of other capabilities we could do, but our philosophy was to define the scope around what it took to get off the mainframe," he says. Not that the deployment was without its challenges. For instance, in the midst of the SAP/SEEBURGER implementation, one of C&H's major retail customers — which include the likes of Wal-Mart and Costco, as well as supermarket chains such as Safeway and Albertsons — requested that the sugar company start using AS2, a protocol for the secure transport of EDI documents over the Internet. C&H was able to jury-rig a solution based on the old mainframe before the new ERP system went live and then switch over to using the new solutions once the implementation was completed. Since then, as various other major customers have expressed interest in moving away from using VANs to communicating via AS2, C&H has been able to buy additional AS2 licenses from SEEBURGER to accommodate those customers.
Moving forward, C&H is considering ways to extend the use of its new EDI capabilities to its supply base, perhaps trading purchase orders and receiving notices with some of its key suppliers. Currently, the sugar company is looking to link with its outside contracted warehouses directly via EDI. To date, C&H has simply provided the warehouses with PCs and printers at their locations, and the warehouse staff provides the "sneaker-ware," entering transactions for receiving and shipping C&H's products in both their own systems and directly into the sugar company's SAP system. C&H currently is in the process of establishing those EDI links with a handful of its larger warehouses so that these facilities systems can send transactions directly into C&H's ERP, and the company is considering additional projects in this regard as it sees the benefits of reduced labor at the warehouses and increased inventory accuracy from the direct, system-to-system transactions.
The return on investment in moving to the SAP/SEEBURGER solution has come in several forms. For instance, the completion of the project has freed up employees previously occupied with supporting the mainframe and EDI traffic, allowing these resources to be devoted to other projects, including implementing EDI with additional customers. This will, of course, result in some cost savings as C&H is able to move more of its business off of fee-based VANs. And the company is seeing improved customer satisfaction just because of the reliability of the transactions, the visibility of the transactions and the reduction in transaction errors. But Walden says that the most significant payoff has been just moving away from the old mainframe system. "The legacy system was near collapse, so our goal was basically to ensure that we could continue to support our customers as well or better than we were able to before," he says, concluding, "Basically the choice was either we do this or we don't run the business with an ERP system."