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Agility in Action – Supporting an SAP Distribution Center Relocation in Real Time

One of our clients innocently sends us an email on Tuesday, April  27th asking us to close up one of their microsites in 3 days…for 3 days…in support of  relocating one of their distribution centers.  The request was a simple  one, “deactivate all of our French users, and only our French users, for  the specified time period, so that we can make the physical and logical  changes to our distribution model.” 

In SAP terms,the Sales Org wasn’t going to change so sales order  processing wouldn’t be affected, but deliveries would be made from  different plants after the move.  That would mean significant updates to  Master Data to adjust to the new distribution model and transferring  all open orders to the new plants before business would return to  normal.

Simply put, we don’t have an “out of the box” way to  shut down individual microsites.  While we can spin microsites up in a  blink of an eye (almost), this was the first time that anyone asked us  to temporarily shut one down in the year that they’ve been in  production.  It never even crossed anyone’s imagination that once you  opened up a 24×7 available microsite that you’d want to take it  down…unless of course you were bringing SAP down which would affect  all microsites (and we already have a solution for that).

Well,  we’ve now uncovered a legitimate reason to do so and we had 48 hours to  solve the problem.

Whether or not this capability belonged on our  product backlog was a philosophical debate that we didn’t have the  luxury to engage in at the time.  The clock was ticking away and we had  to provide a solution.

This is where our definition of what it  means to be a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider comes into play.  We  think it means way more than having a feature rich software product  that we host for our clients.  We think SaaS really stands for “Service  as a Service”, and our service is anything and everything required to  make our client’s investment in an SAP integrated Order Management  website a positive and rewarding experience.

During the next 24  hours we got to the heart of the requirement which was “to prevent users  from placing orders while the Master Data was being updated”.  Our  instinct was that we didn’t really want to prevent people from entering  the website entirely, for after all there is way more to do on our B2B  website than just place orders :-).  Customers could still track orders,  download documents and retrieve invoices.

Once we got agreement  on the refined requirement of “disable order entry” we were able to  design a simple solution…including friendly messages to  customers…that would accomplish the goal.  We implemented it in QA,  had the customer test it and within the next 24 hours were ready to push  it into production…which we did.

I’m happy to report that all  went as planned.  Our client’s distribution center move went off without  a hitch.  The SAP Master Data updates were all applied successfully and  our B2B website removed order entry authority for all visitors during  the blackout period and restored authority at the end of the move.

Looking  at Google Analytics we can see that we made the right call about  letting customers in while “renovations” were taking place in the  Distribution Center.  Here is what happened over the three day “down  time”:

  1. 52 customers logged into the website.  Some of them more than  once because we logged over 60 visits.
  2. 31 business goals logged.  According to Google, while no orders were placed, customers did  check on status, and downloaded documents.
  3. 28 invoices were retrieved!  I really like this piece of  information.  Had we closed up the website entirely, these invoices  wouldn’t have been retrieved and payments could have been delayed.
  4. No customer complaints filed. Google didn’t tell us that. The  lack of support emails, phone calls, and issues logged told us that.

All in all, this was the kind of experience that really demonstrates  our genetic makeup.  Which I think I can summarize as follows:

  1. We’re totally focused on our clients, and their customer’s,  well being.  Not just in words but in deeds.  We could have just  closed up the website as requested.
  2. We’re pragmatic.  We could have engineered a more “permanent”  solution to the problem, but aside from the fact that there really  wasn’t a lot of time available to us, it was more important to solve the  problem now.  There will always be time to refactor the solution  later…if the investment warrants it. We did put it on the backlog  but I doubt we’ll invest in it anytime in the near future.
  3. We’re Agile.  We didn’t wake up on Tuesday morning knowing  that we were going to support a Distribution Center Relocation in three  days. (It would have been nice if we had more advanced notice :-)).  But  we did wake up knowing that you have to be flexible if you’re going to  stay in business.  This was one of those opportunities to exercise  our Agility. 
  4. We hold ourselves accountable.  We’re genuinely interested in  the results of our work.  The good news is that Google Analytics is our  silent partner in that endeavor.  Our client thanked us for our efforts  and those downloaded invoices probably covered the costs of our time.

Today’s key takeaway? 

SaaS doesn’t stand for “Software as a  Service”, it stands for “Service as a Service”.  Functional software is  just one component of the relationship.  Having it available and making  it work in your environment, day in and day out, is what this business  model is really all about!


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