IT Südwestfalen AG was founded in 2000 and is based in Lüdenscheid, Germany. The IT service provider currently employs over 50 people, and over the past few years has been making the transition from being a classic system house to becoming a full managed service provider. The transformation has affected several business areas, including first and foremost IT infrastructure, information security, the data centre and cloud services.
In this interview, Danny Fischer, Board Member for Sales and Marketing, explains why IT Südwestfalen AG decided to use the ITscope B2B Suite. Mr. Fischer also provides detail about the technical hurdles that were overcome during the implementation, as well as the benefits that it has provided for customers, among other things.
Benjamin Mund, Managing Director ITscope GmbH (BM): Mr. Fischer, thank you very much for finding time for our interview. I would like to start by asking what your specific reason was for using the B2B Suite at IT Südwestfalen AG?
Danny Fischer, Board Member for Sales and Marketing IT Südwestfalen AG (DF): Our primary concern was to not simply act as a wholesaler, but to focus on the services we can provide. At IT Südwestfalen, we essentially serve three types of customers: firstly, customers that purchase both hardware and services, secondly, customers that only book services and managed services, and thirdly, customers that only purchase hardware from us. Offering each of our customers what is right for them individually does not only come natural to us with our service concept, but is also specifically demanded by our customers.
Two years ago we started to structure our internal sales force, we separated purchasing from sales and optimised our procurement processes accordingly. This was the foundation for the decision to move towards a fully digital purchasing process based on the ITscope platform. This allowed all suppliers to be connected in real-time, nowadays we even go so far that an EDI interface with ITscope is a prerequisite for new suppliers when new products are added.
The main motivation for the introduction of the B2B Suite was that we wanted to serve different customers, and also local authorities, with different product ranges. An online shop was too complex for us, whereas the B2B Suite was the optimal solution, as it is a system where we do not have to worry about product data or the integration of distributors. In the summer of 2019 we commissioned ITscope in writing, with the aim to start in November. Just in time for the planned start in November, we received the proof of concept, for which all necessary preparations and onboarding steps were carried out in October.
Our main goal was to achieve stronger customer loyalty. It was also important for us to combine our individual customer support with our eCommerce solution – and this works very well with the B2B Suite. At IT Südwestfalen, our focus is on providing service. We are not Amazon with a huge product range, instead we want to allow our customers to save time in their daily work, by quickly finding what they need on a regular basis. To achieve this, we assemble our portfolio according to the needs of our customers, so that purchasing decisions can be made more quickly. For example, a USB stick from four manufacturers in four sizes, encrypted or unencrypted, or switches, clearly arranged in managed or unmanaged switches. We also offer a follow-up service for orders: one of our employees will take a look at the order and check whether it is plausible. Our customers have the certainty that their order was placed correctly, otherwise we will inform them if it is not.
BM: Which other systems did you initially consider?
DF: For us, the introduction of a classic shop system, such as Shopware or Magento, was not even up for discussion. This is because experience has shown that they are disproportionately expensive, time-consuming and complex for us, especially in view of our objectives. By using the B2B Suite we have to worry about less, because the whole platform including product content and distribution interfaces was offered to us as ‘eCommerce as a service’.
BM: Why was the final decision made in favour of the ITscope B2B Suite?
DF: We already had interfaces to the distribution, all our employees in sales already knew the B2B Suite and we were able to integrate it into our existing ERP system (SelectLine). Through the SelectLine interface, we can easily add product master data for products from the ITscope platform to our ERP system at the push of a button, including any accessory products. Stock levels and prices are synchronised daily and transferred from ITscope to SelectLine. Orders created in our ERP system can be fully transferred into the ITscope shopping cart and can then be ordered. We have therefore achieved an entirely digital workflow without error-prone manual processes.
The implementation of the B2B Suite was started at the beginning of October, it did not even take four weeks until the procurement portal was developed. We didn’t take standard categories and products, but rather put ourselves in our customers’ perspective and put together a suitably tailored product portfolio. And we did all of this in just four weeks! In contrast, with all interfaces, hosting etc., this would have been impossible with a classic shop system in the same period of time. Carrying out such a project ourselves would certainly have taken several months and required many internal resources.
BM: Who were your first customers?
DF: Our first customers were companies from the manufacturing industry, cities and municipalities as well as service providers. These included customers for whom we only provided services, as well as customers that wanted both products and services.
BM: How did the orders go?
DF: We made a conscious decision to not directly route the orders to our distribution, but to first check each order for plausibility. For example, we are able to notice if an ‘IGEL Thin Client’ has been ordered without an operating system. This allows us to provide the customer with a quality control for each order, giving us added value compared to other shops.
We are also able to offer our customers a greater variety of products. If a customer asks us for a 24″ monitor in the traditional way, we would offer them two or three different models. In the B2B Suite, we of course have a wider product range and can therefore meet our customers’ needs even better.
The system also offers advantages for our colleagues that are on site with the customer: we can now provide everyone with their own shop, with datasheets and recommendations. Since the entire product content is already included in the platform, our customers no longer have to search for products on Google and, in the worst case, end up ordering from competitors.
BM: How did the implementation phase go?
DF: We first looked at the entire order history for each customer, talked to the customers and the sales department, and then developed a customer-friendly and practical product portfolio based on the different perspectives.
As a matter of principle, we only included products in our portfolio for which we could provide full advice. In addition, multi-client capability became possible: this means that we can also activate products that are not primarily part of our product range for individual customers that wish to purchase these items, and not for others.
Within our product portfolio, we can offer services, managed services and cloud services and also have the opportunity to present the full range to our customers. This gives us added value and allows us to show the full scope of what we offer. And it gives us the opportunity to generate additional business – which we are already starting to notice.
BM: What technical hurdles had to be overcome?
DF: Fortunately, we were able to avoid many technical hurdles right from the start, because we have a specific contact person that carried out a well-structured onboarding with us. With regular conferences on individual topics and the continuous exchange of ideas, we were able to better structure and develop our own work. Fundamentally, it can be said that everything works well technically. Only a few minor problems were caused by the branding under our own domain, and also the performance was problematic initially – but now it’s working perfectly.
BM: What organisational challenges had to be overcome in the construct Customer – IT Südwestfalen – ITscope? How did your customers accept the portal?
DF: The personal and detailed onboarding of our customers was crucial in ensuring that the concept of a service-driven B2B shop was understood in contrast to traditional sales. Here, you have to be aware of the differences from the very beginning and also deal with topics such as pricing. On the basis of the multi-supplier catalogue, we now of course have more opportunities to offer limited quantity ‘bargains’, which cannot be offered in the classic quoting process due to the typical 14-day quote validity.
We explain this in detail to our customers in the onboarding process, so that they can use the system to its fullest extent with all the advantages. Ultimately, a lean eProcurement SaaS solution is introduced by the customer with our portal. A solution that opens up further process advantages for them, such as the creation of collections for product bundles, approval processes, shared product lists and internal collaboration. So far, this comprehensive package has convinced our customers without exception.
BM: What further steps are planned?
DF: We would like to expand the B2B Suite to considerably more customers. Specifically, we plan to reach between 30 and 40 new customers by the end of the year – but of course quality comes before quantity.
BM: How satisfied are the stakeholders with the project?
DF: We see everything very positively: our project business continues and is perfectly complemented by the B2B Suite. We have defined a main person responsible for shop orders, plausibility checks and the purchase handover. For our customers, this means that they will continue to have fixed sales contacts and at the same time the burden on the office staff can be reduced. This means we have significantly less work, especially in downstream processes, and yet can still generate higher revenues. Our procurement department has been on board right from the start, allowing us to implement a lean process solution.
BM: Have there been any measurable successes yet?
DF: The most important success for us was a 40% increase in orders, which we could not have generated without the system. The pilot phase was initially planned until the end of April, but was successfully ended ahead of schedule, so we decided to roll out the system to more customers. We used the proof of concept intensively to identify further optimisation possibilities. For this, the customers’ viewpoint is particularly important to us, which is why we consulted with twelve of our customers in order to provide us with their perspective. Of course, there are still a few things that can be improved, but the technical basis works perfectly.
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