A stapler is a stapler, that is what most people might think. It must be difficult to form a strong emotion bond with the impaler of small bits of bent wire, and most other office products for that matter. But Gary Blanchette, Executive Vice President of US office products company, Amax, begs to differ.
Speaking at the recent Microsoft Convergence Conference in Atlanta, he claimed to have an office wall covered in letters from users of the company’s office products range, some praising them, and some asking for help:
The emotional connection comes in no small part from the history of Amax. It was until recently the office products division of Stanley Black and Decker, which through the Stanley name is one of the USA’s oldest businesses. It has a brand identity going back to 1896 when it first started trading. Subsequent brand studies of the marketplace have demonstrated that the emotional connection does exist.
A couple of years ago the tools company decided it wanted to divest itself of the office products division and sell it to the Taiwan-based manufacturer of most of the Stanley-branded products it sold. Because of other business plans within Stanley Black and Decker, Blanchette and his team were left with a very strict and tight timetable in which to complete all the preparations for the divestiture.
The two most important components of this were completing a deal to continue selling office products carrying the Stanley brand, and the acquisition and implementation of its own ERP system. Prior to this the division had run its operations on the parent company’s ERP resources.
To meet the aggressive timescale set by Stanley Black and Decker for the new business he realised that whatever ERP system was selected would need to be as simple as possible to install and implement, as well as being as lean as possible. As part of this, he had decided that from day one the ERP would run on a hosted environment. In fact the plan was to outsource as much as possible in one way or the other, so for example distribution and the Human Resources function were both outsourced to other companies.
The shortlist of ERP vendors Blanchette came up with was SAP, NetSuite and Microsoft Dynamics GP. Meanwhile, the timescale the business had been set for completion of the divestiture had been delayed by the inevitable minutiae of the legal process, leaving him and his team with some 12 weeks to get the final choice installed and running:
Blanchette indicated that customisations had been something of a bug-bear when still a division of Stanley Black and Decker, and they had slowed things up. The company’s reputation, however, meant that customers were generally content to wait seven to 10 days for product delivery. He realised this might not roll over to the new business:
It was the dependence on customisation which led him away from SAP as the ERP choice. The decision to host the ERP system put NetSuite’s SaaS offerings in the frame but at the time he did not have enough confidence in the reliability of the service. In addition, the high priority for the company was implementing an ERP system that worked as closely to out of the box as possible.
Blanchette was not focused on the economic arguments at all – at the time, his view was that such arguments could come later, once the business was established. In essence, his view of the parameters of choice were that a cheap and possibly not working solution would be bad, and that an expensive service not working without extensive customisation would be equally bad.
The choice he made, therefore, was Microsoft Dynamics GP running in a fully hosted environment from the start. Though GP is not promoted as a `Cloud-enabled’ service, its ability to run in a fully hosted environment allowed Blanchette to establish a private Cloud operation. He professed himself please with the way GP helped meet the aggressive implementation timescale. The familiarity of the User Interface was a particular advantage here as it cut significantly the amount of time needed for staff training:
This in turn reduced the cost to Amax of subsidiary requirements such as service contracts, maintenance and training compared to other vendors. He broadly dismissed the common data security fears about Clouds and hosted services, pointing other factors as drivers:
He is already using the ERP system to collaborate with partners, finding particular advantages in the ability to collaborate across time zones. Staff can VPN into the system from wherever they are, which he finds an important advantage. Customers can even work with the system on an ad hoc basis for enquiries about processes like the company’s Rebate Programme, and Blanchette is planning to take this a step further by setting up a policy-based access management system that will allow them direct access without first consulting Amax staff.
With customers already a target for integration with the ERP system the next move for Amax is, Blanchette suggested, the integration with CRM. This was not seen as a priority to start with, as it already had established business with the majority of the major office product vendors and sales prospecting was not a primary concern. But the growth in social media, coupled to the realisation that it’s exploitation did apply to office products as much as any other product, has made Blanchette realise it a powerful tool if harnessed in the right way: