Picadilly fashions B2B tool on WebSphere

Business-to-business e-commerce is turning out to be a good fit for Toronto women’s clothing supplier Picadilly Fashions, allowing the company to take orders from retailers faster and reduce errors.

Orders that took 15 to 20 minutes to place via phone calls to a traditional order desk now take about five minutes online, says Elan Zusman, Picadilly’s information technology and e-commerce manager, and because the orders are no longer re-keyed into the fashion company’s back-end systems, errors are virtually eliminated.

Though it has fewer than 200 employees, Picadilly supplies clothing to retailers in the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy and elsewhere.

Previously, Zusman says, customer service representatives took the orders and entered them manually before they were passed to Picadilly’s warehouse for shipping. “Implementing the online solution has basically eliminated the need for that middleman.” That has freed the representatives to do other things, Zusman says.

Picadilly considered several options, including an open-source approach and an e-commerce setup built on Microsoft Corp. software, before choosing Capricorn e-commerce software from Toronto-based SilverBlaze Solutions Inc., which runs on IBM Corp.’s WebSphere software platform.

Dan Mair, director of e-business solutions at six-year-old SilverBlaze, says the Capricorn software provides building blocks such as customer inquiry and ordering to help get e-business sites up and running quickly. It is used primarily for business-to-business applications, he says, but has been applied in a few business-to-consumer installations as well. Picadilly is using Capricorn’s catalogue ordering module.

Zusman says Picadilly had concerns about the level of support it would get with an open-source approach, and about the reliability of the Microsoft technology. “IBM really gave us the stability and support we were looking for,” he says.

Mair, whose company bases its development work entirely on IBM software platforms, says WebSphere provides both stability and room to grow. “We feel that WebSphere is the best-of-breed open-standard application server on the market right now,” he says.

Implementing the system took about six months. “There was a lot of testing, a lot of modifications along the way,” Zusman explains. Modifications dealt with issues such as making the interface between Capricorn and Picadilly’s back-end systems more efficient. For instance, passing a customer’s entire invoice history from one system to the other took too long, so Picadilly made changes to pass on only a couple of months’ worth of data.

The e-commerce system only synchronizes with Picadilly’s back-end order processing and warehouse system once per hour, Zusman explains. “We don’t want to bog down the system,” Zusman explains. “It’s a whole extract process.” Once daily, the e-commerce front end retrieves updated inventory data so that customers can see relatively up-to-date information about what Picadilly has in stock.

Information on the e-commerce site is easy to update, Zusman says, and customers can see pictures of the garments they are ordering, which they cannot do with the old phone-ordering system.

Despite the online system’s advantages, only about 40 per cent of Picadilly’s customers have started using the online system in the year since it went live. But, says Zusman, “we’re expecting that number to increase throughout this year.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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