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Antiquated iSeries ERP module gets Web overhaul

NetManage helped auto parts supplier Dayton Parts create a Web interface for its antiquated online ordering system, increasing users and freeing up customer support personnel.

An auto parts supplier revved up a Web-based ordering process on its System i that allowed its customer support...

staff to focus more on real problems instead of taking orders all day.

Harrisburg, Pa.-based Dayton Parts, a supplier of aftermarket undercarriage auto parts, used a System i5 520 running i5/OS V5R4 to run the old online ordering system that came with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) package that Dayton Parts had purchased and customized in the early 1990s.

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But online ordering had its issues. The first time an order was placed, customers had to download a terminal emulator to their own machines. Then they had to make sure they had the right version of Java; if they didn't, someone from Dayton Parts would have to walk them through the process of downloading it. Also, any time Dayton Parts updated its software with a new version of Java, customers would have to redownload the program and the new version of Java.

"Our main problem was speed and ease of use," said Terry Rishel, manager of information systems, Dayton Parts. "[Customers] would have to go through two screens, one asking which version of the program to run and another screen questioning the proper level of Java, before it would even get to a sign-on screen."

The result? The online ordering program wasn't accelerating in popularity like Dayton Parts wanted, and customer service personnel were wasting too much of their time looking up parts numbers and taking orders over the phone instead of working on more important issues.

"It was very cumbersome," Rishel said.

The problem, in other words, wasn't the software per se, but delivering it to customers. The company didn't need to build an entirely new application, which would cost big bucks, it just needed to somehow leverage what it had.

For years, Dayton Parts had been using a program from NetManage Inc. called Rumba, which allowed employees to run green screen applications in a more Web-friendly setting. The company needed similar functionality, but for external customers.

For Dayton Parts' problem, NetManage had OnWeb, which allows companies to present green screen applications in a Web interface.

NetManage, based in Cupertino, Calif., has been in business 16 years, claims 10,000 customers and produces software that helps companies more easily access legacy programs, often by porting them to Web-friendly interfaces. Some call this service-oriented architecture (SOA), some call it Web services. Whatever it's named, the goal is to help businesses put a different face on their programs without having to rip and replace them.

Dayton Parts started testing OnWeb in September; by December it was deployed in production. Rishel said there has been about a 75-percent increase in the number of users using its online order entry system. Of about 900 active customers, 827 have user IDs and passwords. Whereas before the company was seeing seven to 10 users on the system at any one time, during an interview last week Rishel checked the numbers and reported that 81 users were using it at that moment.

Because of the increased use of the online ordering system, Dayton Parts is getting about 65 fewer customer service calls every day.

"Now if there is an issue with a customer – for example, if one of our shipments gets lost – they can really talk to that customer and make it right," Rishel said. "They know they can spend time with them and do more customer service business, rather than being an order taker."

Rishel wouldn't say how much OnWeb cost Dayton Parts, but prices start at $9,000 and can shoot up to $100,000, depending on how big a box you've got.

"It took them instantly from what they had, from something that looked old, into something that looked more modern," added Archie Roboostoff, director of product management at NetManage.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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