Agility in Action – Supporting an SAP Distribution Center Relocation in Real Time

Written May 5th, 2010 by
Categories: CEO's Blog
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One of our clients innocently sends us an email on Tuesday, April 27th asking us to close up one of their microsites in 3 days…for 3 days…in support of relocating one of their distribution centers.  The request was a simple one, “deactivate all of our French users, and only our French users, for the specified time period, so that we can make the physical and logical changes to our distribution model.”

In SAP terms,the Sales Org wasn’t going to change so sales order processing wouldn’t be affected, but deliveries would be made from different plants after the move.  That would mean significant updates to Master Data to adjust to the new distribution model and transferring all open orders to the new plants before business would return to normal.

Simply put, we don’t have an “out of the box” way to shut down individual microsites.  While we can spin microsites up in a blink of an eye (almost), this was the first time that anyone asked us to temporarily shut one down in the year that they’ve been in production.  It never even crossed anyone’s imagination that once you opened up a 24×7 available microsite that you’d want to take it down…unless of course you were bringing SAP down which would affect all microsites (and we already have a solution for that).

Well, we’ve now uncovered a legitimate reason to do so and we had 48 hours to solve the problem.

Whether or not this capability belonged on our product backlog was a philosophical debate that we didn’t have the luxury to engage in at the time.  The clock was ticking away and we had to provide a solution.

This is where our definition of what it means to be a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider comes into play.  We think it means way more than having a feature rich software product that we host for our clients.  We think SaaS really stands for “Service as a Service”, and our service is anything and everything required to make our client’s investment in an SAP integrated Order Management website a positive and rewarding experience.

During the next 24 hours we got to the heart of the requirement which was “to prevent users from placing orders while the Master Data was being updated”.  Our instinct was that we didn’t really want to prevent people from entering the website entirely, for after all there is way more to do on our B2B website than just place orders :-).  Customers could still track orders, download documents and retrieve invoices.

Once we got agreement on the refined requirement of “disable order entry” we were able to design a simple solution…including friendly messages to customers…that would accomplish the goal.  We implemented it in QA, had the customer test it and within the next 24 hours were ready to push it into production…which we did.

I’m happy to report that all went as planned.  Our client’s distribution center move went off without a hitch.  The SAP Master Data updates were all applied successfully and our B2B website removed order entry authority for all visitors during the blackout period and restored authority at the end of the move.

Looking at Google Analytics we can see that we made the right call about letting customers in while “renovations” were taking place in the Distribution Center.  Here is what happened over the three day “down time”:

  1. 52 customers logged into the website.  Some of them more than once because we logged over 60 visits.
  2. 31 business goals logged.  According to Google, while no orders were placed, customers did check on status, and downloaded documents.
  3. 28 invoices were retrieved!  I really like this piece of information.  Had we closed up the website entirely, these invoices wouldn’t have been retrieved and payments could have been delayed.
  4. No customer complaints filed. Google didn’t tell us that. The lack of support emails, phone calls, and issues logged told us that.

All in all, this was the kind of experience that really demonstrates our genetic makeup.  Which I think I can summarize as follows:

  1. We’re totally focused on our clients, and their customer’s, well being.  Not just in words but in deeds.  We could have just closed up the website as requested.
  2. We’re pragmatic.  We could have engineered a more “permanent” solution to the problem, but aside from the fact that there really wasn’t a lot of time available to us, it was more important to solve the problem now.  There will always be time to refactor the solution later…if the investment warrants it. We did put it on the backlog but I doubt we’ll invest in it anytime in the near future.
  3. We’re Agile.  We didn’t wake up on Tuesday morning knowing that we were going to support a Distribution Center Relocation in three days. (It would have been nice if we had more advanced notice :-)).  But we did wake up knowing that you have to be flexible if you’re going to stay in business.  This was one of those opportunities to exercise our Agility. 
  4. We hold ourselves accountable.  We’re genuinely interested in the results of our work.  The good news is that Google Analytics is our silent partner in that endeavor.  Our client thanked us for our efforts and those downloaded invoices probably covered the costs of our time.

Today’s key takeaway?

SaaS doesn’t stand for “Software as a Service”, it stands for “Service as a Service”.  Functional software is just one component of the relationship.  Having it available and making it work in your environment, day in and day out, is what this business model is really all about!

Sam