Cement company mixes it up with portal strategy

One of North America’s largest cement and concrete suppliers is expecting to drive 70 per cent of its business online by November.

St. Lawrence Cement began rolling out its first portal in pilot form with selected

customers several months ago, and now has about 40% of its orders being placed online by Ontario customers in the construction industry. The 51-year-old company, which employs about 2,500 people in Canada and the U.S., has been working with Concord, Ont.-based iStark Corp. to develop the portal.

Susan Pinder, e-commerce site administrator for St. Lawerence Cement, said the company began thinking about an e-commerce portal about two years ago, but it also wanted to include technical and account information beyond mere transactions to help manage relationships with its clients.

“”It was really traditional in terms of distributing information,”” she said. “”There was through the mail, brochures. We have technical service reps distributing information as well. Since we’ve had the e-commerce platform we’ve been able to consolidate a lot of the information and organize it into topics that are relevant to our customer.””

The cement industry is iStark’s specialty because some of its management team come directly from that sector. Dave Codak, iStark’s president, said it remains one of the few niches left to catch up in the transition to e-business.

“”It’s kind of old economy, it’s very traditional, and as such, probably late in the game to accept any kind of e-technology,”” he said. “”It’s similar to what you would see in the steel industry, or some of the ones that deal with General Manager as a business-to-business portal.””

The St. Lawrence portal connects transactions with its ERP system so that as a truck arrives at the plant, customers can see their order being loaded and shipped. They can also review order histories, Pinder said.

“”I think it’s bringing clarity,”” she said. “”When they have questions, they can go on the Web site and look at the order themselves. If they make any changes to orders they can go online and look at the modification history of an order. I do think in the long run it will allow them to just manage that part rather than make a phone call.””

St. Lawrence is now making personal visits and doing one-on-one presentations to address any training issues and get feedback. This nature of this training could depend on who is involved, Codak said.

“”When we say ‘customer,’ that’s multiple constituencies,”” he pointed out. “”For example, it could be the president of a company, it could be the accountant, it could be the quality assurance person. It could the batch person loading the cement.””

Technical tools on the portal may not be connected with ordering functions, but help clients develop the mix design of the cement or concrete they’re ordering, Codak added. The portal was built upon a platform that includes products from BroadVision Inc. and Oracle Corp.

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