The construction industry may have a reputation as a laggard when it comes to technology adoption, but there are certain people in the sector who would like to alter that perception once and forever.
Tarmac, best known for its supply of concrete, aggregates and asphalt to the construction industry, boasts global revenues of £2.1 billion, but until recently its interaction with customers online was woefully stuck in the early days of the web.
Until September 2007, Tarmac Online was a basic web-based system used by around 2,000 customers for confirming the details of invoices, delivery tickets and other documents. Customers who were taking receipt of a particular order could log onto the site to check their consignment against a scan of the original paperwork.
That was useful – especially when delivery tickets went missing or there was a dispute about an invoice – but it was cumbersome and limiting for both the company and its suppliers. It lacked timeliness, there was no means of drilling down into the data, and, most of all, it was restricted to the details available on the scanned documents.
The lack of transparency and the inconsistencies between the scanned information and the data held in the company’s SAP business applications resulted in large numbers of calls from customers and a huge administration overhead.
Recognising that, during ebusiness strategy sessions in 2005 Tarmac’s senior management backed a move to completely overhaul the portal, opening up relevant SAP data to customers.
As the basis for the revamp, Tarmac chose the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS2007), assessing the technology as particularly suited to ensure accessibility among its broad group of customers (other products considered were SAP Enterprise Portal and IBM WebSphere Portal). After a recommendation from Microsoft, Tarmac commissioned technology design and development consultancy Conchango to build the portal on top of MOSS2007 and integrate it with the SAP back-end, aware of the work Conchango had carried out at Virgin Mobile, Chevron and HMV.
The system’s capabilities, which went live in September 2007 after a five-month development effort and an equal time piloting the system, now far outreach those of its predecessor. The access to real-time information enables customers to manage their materials purchasing and accounts, improving interaction but also ensuring significant cost and time savings for Tarmac.
Characterised to customers as akin to online banking applications, Tarmac Online provides four core windows into the SAP data: E-Account, where customers can view their current statement, associated invoices and credit/debit notes; E-Order, allowing them to view their open quotes and place new orders for material directly; E-Tracking, letting them track, in real time, orders being dispatched; and E-Reporting, giving customers management reporting functionality that enables them to analyse material ordered and delivered.
But the advantages are not all on the customer side. Tarmac itself has been able to cut out a significant administrative workload: inbound calls querying orders are dramatically reduced, invoices resolved quicker online and cash flow improved due to the reduction of debtor days, says Kate Boyle, ebusiness manager.
“Just take the example of concrete delivery. Our distribution teams were constantly being asked when orders were going to arrive. Because we are able to show real-time data over the Internet, customers can see when the truck left and plan their work without having to phone us up,” says Boyle.
The project leaned heavily on the talents of both the Conchango development team and specialist business and IT staff within Tarmac. “It was a true collaboration, using the Agile delivery framework and user-centric design, ensuring close alignment of technologies and the people who really knew the business,” says Boyle.
Customer reaction has been highly positive. “One client told me, ‘This has been the most significant move forward in terms of customer service in this industry for 20 years.’ Nobody else has anything like this in our industry.”
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