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SMART ARTISANS

Exploitable results

When the economy rebounds, many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) could find the door to prosperity closed. This is because they will be competing in tomorrow's business environment using yesterday's business architectures. Old business models fail to keep up with the accelerating pace of e-commerce. The ten partners in the IST-funded SMARTISAN project recognised that today's e-commerce solutions are expensive, difficult to operate and complex to integrate with legacy systems. They remain decoupled from company systems, which results in client dissatisfaction due to unfulfilled deliveries and poor handling of exceptions. "It is difficult for SMEs to take advantage of existing solutions to overcome these obstacles because they are expensive, involve the use of consultants, and require highly trained technical people to operate the systems," explains technical coordinator Alvaro Duarte de Oliveira from Alfamicro, a Portuguese consultancy and engineering company. "The SMARTISAN business model meets these challenges by providing sophisticated services that are easy and affordable to install, operate and maintain." Taking SMEs a step forward The project, which ended in 30 June 2003, takes e-commerce for SMEs a step forward. The SMARTISAN Application Service Provider (SASP) provides end-user companies with a one-stop-shop service including the Web, IT and mobile applications as well as seamless integration of Internet, wireless/voice/data communicates and satellite services. 'Virtual Artisans' are online tools that enhance the capabilities of SASP's e-business platform. These tools simplify the customer's interaction with the system before, during or after a sale by providing customised information and knowledge. User-friendly Virtual Artisans include the Virtual Shop Assistant, the Expert, the Planner, the Guide and the Knowledge Manager. Successful pilots grow businesses in three sectors SMARTSAN project partners carefully selected pilot end-users with a view to encompassing as many aspects as possible of business in an electronic environment. Says de Oliveira: "The idea was to develop universal tools that could be customised. The pilot sectors each have specific requirements that apply to a wide range of businesses." According to the business plan developed over summer 2002, a new company involving software and service vendors in the European market is being established to fully exploit SMARTISAN services and products. A new knowledge management system for Fabor Fabor, a Portuguese manufacturing SME specialising in custom designed and made-to-order solutions in technical rubber, wanted to participate in the e-commerce revolution by spreading their market as far as possible and differentiating themselves from their competition. There was no access to broadband, and internal and external information flows were paper based. The company needed more than infinite shelf space and electronic catalogues from the Internet. It needed a tool to capture existing employee knowledge about products and business processes, including new order enquiries. This knowledge has to be transparent and user-friendly enough to attract new customers. A number of collaborative tools were developed, which can be customised to any enterprise aiming to take advantage of e-business and e-commerce. "SMARTISAN helped us to create a knowledge database that linked with production management software, giving us quicker, safer and more responsible management of our internal know-how," says María Amorim Sousa (Managing Director). "This enhanced our customer relationships and created new ones due to our 24/7 capability. It also taught Fabor best practice for the new e-technologies. We are now one of the few, if only, e-enabled technical make-to-order rubber manufacturing companies." Today, Fabor is committed to its new knowledge management system. It is fully engaged in e-business and exploiting e-collaboration with customers. For example, a group of customers are placing repeat orders and tracking them online. Creating a leaner, more effective organisation at Dixon S.J. Dixon & Son, the largest distributor of roll-length wallpaper in the UK, dispatches orders from a range of thousands of patterns to their affiliated retailers anywhere in the country within 24 hours of an order being placed. It is also a major paint distributor and retailer of a wide range of decorating products in central England, supplying professional decorators and the public. The company had a legacy system to manage stock, was connected by EDI (electronic data interchange) to some major suppliers and had a telesales team in place. It was looking to enhance its market image and migrate the telesales order, taking operations to a website. A more coherent IT strategy to create a leaner, more effective organisation involved transforming some business processes as well as evaluating emerging technologies such as tracking and tracing, an electronic catalogue and stock control automation. A Web-based catalogue now allows a number of retail customers to place their order electronically, giving them a 24/7 service. A virtual sales assistant helps customers select products progressively and handle the complex issue of mixed shades. SMARTISAN also improved the internal process for purchase ordering and goods receipt, and extended a tracking and tracing application to its fleet of delivery vehicles. "SMARTISAN caused us to re-examine many of our business processes and introduce changes to internal systems, resulting in greater efficiency and speed," says company secretary Colin Aston. "We have adopted solutions that otherwise would never have been considered. It was much easier than expected to integrate these new solutions into our legacy systems." SMARTISAN brings Shannon Minerals' customers closer Shannon Minerals, an Irish manufacturer and distributor of bottled mineral waters to small and large retailers in Ireland and the UK wanted a solution that would bring its customers closer and at the same time have a 'lock-in effect' to make it more attractive for small retailers to order from Shannon than from its competitors. The company also needed a simple IT solution to support stock control and distribution logistics. It was running a call centre and a paper based ordering system, taking and confirming orders before entering them into the legacy system. SMARTISAN tools create online order forms personalised for each customer that automatically cross match the necessary bar code numbers and insert them into the production system. SMARTISAN's virtual planner helps each client generate new orders in time and according to their needs by forecasting using historical data and market behaviour. This is particularly beneficial to small outlets and corner shops. The forecast triggers the customer's immediate reaction and saves them valuable time. Shannon is able to maintain better stock control and lean logistics using an integrated management system that allows the order to be picked and delivered within 24 hours. Source: Based on information from SMARTISAN Promoted by the IST Results Service