MMI hits $1 million with B2B initiatives

MMI has combined early adopter advantage with a host of business software solutions to bring increased efficiencies, higher levels of transparency to its supply chain and booming e-commerce sales.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  September 9, 2001

|~||~||~|MMI has combined early adopter advantage with a host of business software solutions to bring increased efficiencies, higher levels of transparency to its supply chain and booming e-commerce sales. In addition to boosting its back end systems with the implementation of a new warehouse management system and Microsoft's BizTalk, the company has also passed the $1 million mark for business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce sales.

The company is increasing sales and improving efficiencies in the e-commerce space in two ways. With a number of select customers, MMI has employed BizTalk to act as a translator server, which allows customers to link their own business software into MMI's own ERP system. The company's other route is through a more typical B2B e-commerce set up that has manifested itself as MMI's and web sites.

MMI's B2B sites and its restricted-use web site for diplomatic missions and consulates, are hosted on a dedicated server, provided by Innerhost, through Microsoft's SQL Server. The web application itself was designed in conjunction with Dubai's Gulf Testing Factory Services (GTFS). The company also employs Microsoft Site Server, which is running off NT, IAS Internet formation servers and index servers, which accelerate the company's real-time response time.

Ajay Mathur, manager of information systems at MMI, explains that the company's B2B success stems from its willingness to work closely with customers.

"We were early to realise that we would need to change our processes and our thinking to service our customers better, because our customers were asking for turnaround times of a day whereas before it was a two day turnaround. We were looking for 'customer delight' — something exceeding the customers expectations. [So] we worked closely with our customers and made them part of our initiative."

The B2B set up has certainly garnered high praise from its customers. Peter Scholz of the Hyatt Regency points to the cost savings online transactions bring when compared to traditional offline ordering. "Admittedly, these are small savings, but it translates into significant cost reductions over a period of time," he says.

Sanjay Narula of Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club adds that "by decreasing the cost of doing business, we are easily able to add up these savings to increase our profits." He also explains that "in the pipeline are a few exciting projects that will offer our customers a seamless integration to B2B and add value to business transactions conducted on the Internet."

The seamless integration that Narula refers to is the integration solution that MMI has employed with three of its existing customers. Mathur explains that MMI deployed the middleware layer after discussions with partners revealed that some customers didn't wish to enter order information into both the MMI B2B site, and their own software.

"Hotels that predominantly use software called Fidelio, have come back to us and said that they do not want use our system, and would rather place their orders on Fidelio and then be passed straight in to our system," he says.

||**|||~||~||~|Sirwin Baldar, large accounts enterprise manager, UAE, Microsoft explains: "We ran a pilot with one of MMI's customers and integrated the ERP system into BizTalk [Server]. BizTalk actually did the mapping translation between the customer sales order and the MMI order processing system, so they [the customer] have now bypassed the e-commerce site."

Now, when a customer wants to make an order, it does so in its own software. A file is then generated and sent through the Internet to the MMI BizTalk Server where the transformation is completed. Only then does the order enter the MMI system.

The benefits of bypassing the e-commerce site for MMI's customers include the reduction of double data entry errors and the convenience of using their own systems. Baldar adds that the business relationship between MMI and its customers has been strengthened as well, which bodes well for any future initiatives.

"It builds a relationship so they [MMI and its customers] are now partners. They have to agree the terms and conditions of how they will operate. These business rules are then applied within the BizTalk system, [for example,] what maximum quantities are going to be."

These business rules are in fact XML schemes for the exchange of data and are at the core of the middleware layer.

Although Mathur explains that the BizTalk integration route depends on the technology "maturity level" of its customers, he believes that, eventually, it will be their preferred method of transacting business online.

"From a business perspective the BizTalk initiative will be more acceptable. The reason is that we have to respect our customer own processes and they would like to follow their own ordering methods. Also, it reduces mistakes and lowers the administrative cost for them," he says.

Unfortunately, neither the B2B or BizTalk methods can succeed unless MMI's warehouse systems are online, integrated, and working well. In order to smooth the flow of information along the supply chain the company recently upgraded its Exceed Warehouse Management (WMS) system to the 3X version, which runs on Microsoft's SQL 7.0 database.

Mathur explains that the previous version of the software had limited features in terms of operating efficiencies in the warehouse. "It was built on SQL 6.5, which had some problems... it also has severe performance issues so while it was fine for lower volume transaction it could not keep up with our growing business. It was like an anchor round our neck and some of our customers complained," he says.

And, as Mike Lee, manager, MMI Logistics says, it is about "not merely meeting customer needs but exceeding them." This translates into a guaranteed four-hour delivery time to Dubai-based customers. Mathur adds that such a high standard of service is necessary as global brands, such as Epson, Rioch, Philips, and Toys R Us use MMI Logistics.

"It was our duty to improve our efficiencies and we need to be able to service high volumes and delivery has to be within hours — especially as we are growing our business [outside of the UAE]," says Mathur.

He adds that there is increased pressure from MMI's customers, as they want their JD Edwards and SAP ERP implementations to talk to the company's own management systems. Data transparency is also an issue. "It is their data and their products, so they should be able to see it [whenever they want to]," he says.

This link is again formed with BizTalk Server as Mathur wants to build as few interfaces as possible between systems. With this in place, he explains, all the company needs to do is add the business rules. Essentially, as he says, "our warehouse [has to] meet the needs of our own business as well as third party ones."

Although these IT initiatives are not without their "teething problems," Mathur firmly believes that MMI would not be able to retain its market leadership without it. "The business software is very important, as why would a customer come to us unless we have a differentiator," he says. "Now we have the speed to reply to a customer’s needs they are delighted. Now, they are pushing us to deliver even quicker, which is good as it makes us think even harder."||**||

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