Sklar Peppler gets comfortable with ‘Magic’ extranet

Sklar Peppler is saying goodbye to green screens.

The Canadian furniture manufacturer is flipping the switch on a live beta test of an extranet for its retail customers and sales reps in a matter of three weeks, thanks to the help

of Irvine, Calif.-based Magic Software.

When Whitby, Ont.-based Skar Peppler Furniture Corp.’s marketing department requested the extranet, the company had an important choice to make: replace its heavily customized manufacturing resource planning (MRP) system, or find a way to build a Web-based interface on its mid-range AS400 computing infrastructure.

Marg Allen, MIS director for Sklar Peppler, said the company seriously mulled a completely new ERP system. “We looked at that whole scenario and even got down to having demonstrations,” she said. “There’s a lot of good stuff out there, but a key issue for us was going to be timing because to implement a full ERP system you’re looking at six months minimum – more likely a year – of having the intense work of moving from an existing system to a totally different system.”

Through strategic planning discussions, said Allen, it was decided that the furniture maker would go back to its original plan – find some Web enabling tools it could use to interface with its current system.

Allen said Sklar Peppler had initially set up some green screen programs where its customers and sakes reps could dial in through a VPN and get access to the AS400. “It’s green screen, not Windows point and click which the general public is used to.”

Of course, she said, there was a huge learning curve for users, and providing support was time-consuming.

More than a year ago, Allen had attended a user conference in Toronto and gathered some information on tool providers who could bridge the gap between the Web and its AS400-based MRP. Once the ERP concept was laid to rest, it was time to dust off the brochures. With the help Sklar Peppler’s IBM business partner, Allen did her homework.

One of the things that sold her on using Magic’s eDeveloper tool was a major customer reference – Adidas. “Their IT manager couldn’t say enough good things about,” she said. “They do everything with Magic.”

Sklar Peppler didn’t just want to prove Web access to customers – which include major retailer such as Leons and The Brick – but also provide real-time information. “If an order was entered … we wanted the customer to see it right away, in an effort to try to cut down on calls to our customer service department,” said Allen.

The extranet is just about to go live for sales reps and customers who were already using the green screen access, providing Web-based order status reporting.

“We’re starting out very slowly,” said Allen. “What we did was we converted all of the green screens we had to Magic and we used one of Magic’s consultants who came here for a week and just worked pretty much non-stop.

“They’re our backbone now,” she added. “It’s a very complex language. It’s not a simple tool. You need to get in and really understand it.”

Lee Sutton, systems engineer with Magic Software and the consultant who did the original conversion work for Sklar Peppler, said building extranets is a popular use for the company’s tools, especially for organizations that want to make use of their existing infrastructure.

“(Sklar Peppler) wanted to do it very quickly and inexpensively,” said Sutton. “We were able to do a small proof of concept with them and prove we could do things very fast.”

One of Magic’s strengths, he said, is the ability to provide a complete Windows experience via a browser. “It used to be that people thought they couldn’t do data entry through the Web … with the browser-based products you can generate a program that is great for data entry.”

While Magic provided training and kick-started the conversion, Sutton said Magic wants its customers to be able to learn the tools themselves and be able to support it internally.

‘During these three weeks we also did what we call at transfer of technology — we need to make sure that when we leave Sklar they not only know how to use eDeveloper but they understand their own application.”

Understanding how to use eDeveloper is Allen’s task. “It’s a step by step process,” she said. “But it’s no different than any other language, any software you get. You have to learn it. Even if we got a new ERP system we would be in the same boat.”

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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