Avnet Services:IBM



With more than 250 patents to its credit, Haworth, Inc., could be described as the Thomas Edison of the office furniture industry. In fact, the Michigan based designer of office environments can lay claim to a number of office product firsts, including the first pre-wired wall panels, the first adjustable keyboard trays and the first asymmetrical lumbar adjustment for chairs. So innovative is the company, in fact, that Haworth thinks of itself not so much as an office furniture maker, but as a provider of adaptable office solutions—a characterization that more accurately describes the company’s ability to produce movable, adaptable floors and walls in addition to its traditional chair, desk and case good products.

The company’s legacy of innovation explains how Haworth can today lay claim to one of the largest selections of office furniture and products. With more than 35 million products, the company relies on IT to communicate its wide range of offerings to its worldwide network of 600 dealers. They must be able to interact with their dealers online and it is not even close to feasible to conduct business and provide product information on hard copy anymore.

In order to better serve its dealers, Haworth had decided to build a portal—dubbed dNet—that would allow retailers to procure and customize products more easily. They needed to build a Web site that would make it easier for dealers to do business with them, and, at the same time, make it easier for Haworth to share information with their customers.  Originally, Haworth decided to address its needs by extending its Oracle systems with an Oracle portal platform, but this platform proved lacking in one crucial respect: Oracle security was not compatible with the existing Haworth security model.  They needed a portal platform that could interface with the Oracle database while delivering the security required by the Portal solution.

Ultimately, Haworth decided to perform a vendor evaluation to compare a number of competing portal products. In a solution response proposal, Ascendant Technology presented a solution using IBM WebSphere Portal and IBM Workplace Web Content Management, which appealed to Haworth in a number of respects.  In the end though, it wasn’t any one thing that led Haworth to decide on IBM software. It was the total package—the overall ease of use, IBM’s footprint in the marketplace and the support offered by Ascendant Technology.

The ability of Ascendant to put together a fully functioning proof of concept in a short period of time also helped sway Haworth. Within a week of notification, Ascendant was able to pull together a demo for Haworth that was good looking and robust in terms of what the company could do from a content management perspective.  In fact, within that week Ascendant was able to deliver some features that Haworth had struggled to successfully implement for the previous year and a half.  After viewing the proof of concept, Haworth enlisted Ascendant to build the dNet dealer portal complete with robust content management capabilities using the IBM software.  The project was completed within a period of four months, again meeting the necessary requirement of an extremely demanding timeline to implement a solution based on WebSphere Portal and Workplace Web Content Management.  Also, because WebSphere Portal is based on open standards, Ascendant didn’t really have to do much to get the Portal to collaborate with their existing infrastructure, including their Oracle databases and security systems.

Aligning Technology with the Business Needs

The IBM WebSphere Portal and IBM Workplace Web Content Management (WCM) solution implemented by Ascendant Technology facilitates communication between Haworth and its dealers by streamlining order management and customer service.  The Ascendant solution allows dealers worldwide to access product information, financial data and contracts.  Previously, the dealers were overwhelmed by communications of all kinds – departmental newsletters, email distribution lists – from varied points of contact.

The new portal enables Haworth customers to securely sign on to obtain specific financial and pricing data, thanks to a customer-maintained access and authentication process written by Ascendant Technology.  Prior to deploying the IBM/Ascendant solution, Haworth’s portal averaged roughly 12 visitors per month from a couple of dealerships; after having the new portal in place for just about six months, it received more than 4 million hits from more than 21 countries.

Another result of the solution was the creation of a powerful password management system.  Prior to adopting the IBM and Ascendant on demand portal solution, dNet dealers had to memorize four or more user name and password combinations to access various applications.  The Ascendant solution made Single Sign On a reality for Haworth, allowing its employees and dealers to enter their password only once for complete access to dNet.

Workplace Web Content Management helps provide a dynamic portal, by making it easier for Haworth’s own employees to add content to the portal.  Practically every department – from product marketing to public relations to product development – talks to dealers in some fashion.  Whether they are addressing customer service, financial or marketing issues, all of the departments needed to be able to easily contribute to dNet.  A number of templates customized for Haworth let employees author content, approve content and publish content without assistance from technical personnel.

While every department needs to contribute content, the marketing communications department has final say over what gets posted to dNet. WCM delivers automated workflow and approval functionality, allowing employees to post proposed new content and marketing communications reviewers to approve it.  “There are four or five content approvers in the marketing communications department,” explains Mike Stock, dNet manager at Haworth.  “At the same time, we have trained 85 people to post content using WCM.  All of the content from those 85 potential posters, from all of the various departments, goes through the four or five people in marketing communications who approve the content and post it to the live site.”

The new portal implementation allows Haworth’s employees and dealers worldwide to access information such as product information, financial data, and contracts.  Ascendant Technology wrote custom portlets that surfaced information previously only accessible via existing Haworth mainframe applications.  Providing on-demand access to this vital information for customers and staff has significantly reduced the time spent answering customer-service calls.

In addition, the self-maintained dealer registration process based on custom-built portlets has allowed Haworth to streamline contract management processes, improve the way the company reviews financial data and simplify order searches, all which have drastically reduced time spent by call center customer service representatives.  Instead of spending more than 30 minutes per call to access basic data for dealers, the sales representatives can now offer in-depth product information to potential customers quickly and easily, and in real-time.  The new portal provides Haworth dealers the ability to securely sign on to obtain specific financial and pricing data, thanks to this dealer-maintained access and authentication process written by Ascendant Technology.

The Resulting Benefits

As a result of Ascendant’s portal design and the use of IBM’s open middleware, Haworth gained a customized portal solution which met all the company’s business needs. Ascendant delivered Single Sign On access to multiple backend systems and designed a revamped navigation schema, significantly enhancing usability.  As evidence of the effectiveness of this work, dNet usage increase from an average of 17 hits per month to over 400,000, dramatically improving the way Haworth does business with their dealers.  Haworth was able to transform their operations with an enhanced IT infrastructure which enables the communication and exchange of secure, real-time business information with their global network of dealers.

The architecture of the solution has proven robust and flexible for the past several years and is likely to meet Haworth’s foreseeable needs as they move closer toward their vision of realizing a full service oriented architecture (SOA).  Underlying the architecture is the security backbone, which provides Single Sign On capabilities for the various applications running on the portal.  A core principle of the architecture is the modularization provided by the portlet applications which enable different functionality to evolve independently.  The portal itself was originally implemented using WebSphere Portal Extend V5 software, which enabled a broad range of collaboration functionalities that the previous Oracle solution lacked, including instant messaging, and e-meeting capabilities.

As a measure of the success of its new portal, Mike Stock points to the burgeoning demand for the information it provides. “When we first started thinking about the site, we only planned to roll it out in North America,” he explains. “But once we launched the site, we saw all of our overseas dealers logging in—from places like Bali, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and China. And they were coming to the site mainly to use the online search tools we created. This allowed them to find answers online 24/7, not regulate their calls to Haworth’s Order Services located in Michigan. That, along with the other material on dNet, really helps them our customers run their own businesses more efficiently.”

Aside from helping the company better serve its dealers, the dNet portal grants Haworth the ability to publish materials for customers electronically, which has led to dramatic cost savings.  Rather than publishing volumes of product and pricing information, along with the huge cost to print them, Haworth can now publish that material electronically on dNet, saving both time and money.

In the end, Ascendant Technology’s solution, based on IBM Software, has enabled Haworth to reduce the amount of time employees spend on customer service issues, increase overall efficiency in their processes, and increase security around financial material which has resulted in overall improved sales and service.